BREMERTON, Wash. — The Navy plans to take down the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard’s historic hammerhead crane as part of a billion-dollar effort to turn antiquated facilities into a state-of-the-art dry dock for nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
The green steel of the crane has stood over the shipyard and surrounding city for nearly 90 years, becoming an iconic symbol of Bremerton. But the Navy says the crane, which is no longer in use, is due for costly maintenance and is vulnerable in earthquakes.
“The crane has also degraded after a quarter-century of non-use and it would be very costly for the Navy to maintain it in a safe condition,” the Navy said in documents released Wednesday.
The 25-story crane, one of the few still standing in the country, was built and installed in 1933 by many of the same workers who constructed the Empire State Building in New York. It later became an identifier for the surrounding city and an industrial workforce that helped win a world war.
Following a public process, the Navy will remove the crane from the National Historic Register so it can be demolished.
Bremerton Maj. Greg Wheeler, himself a retired Puget Sound Naval Shipyard worker, said the hammerhead has “been a symbol of industrial might and ingenuity.”
“Thousands of workers over generations brought the crane to life, and it has served as an important connection to our history and military heritage for the region’s residents and visitors,” he said.
The crane was officially retired in 1994 and is today just a relic, though it requires some maintenance and is still rotated about twice a year to ensure large vessels can get by it.
The Navy invested more than $4 million in 1996 to repaint the crane. Millions more would be needed now to ensure its stability, the Navy said.
Though historical, Wheeler acknowledged the needs of the Navy in modernizing its infrastructure for a 21st-century world.
“The new dry dock will ensure America’s fleet remains ready to protect our national security and preserve our quality of life for decades to come,” he said.
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The Navy is investing billions of dollars into the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the largest of its four public shipyards with a workforce of 15,000. The crane’s removal is part of that effort.
The Navy plans to construct a new dock at the shipyard for the first time since 1961 to accommodate the Navy’s newest nuclear-powered vessels. The Navy said Wednesday it will either be designed for dry dock 3, the shipyard dock closest to the Bremerton ferry terminal, or at Mooring Alpha, at the west end of the shipyard.
The 1919-built dry dock 3, located next to the Bremerton ferry terminal, has limited use that is dwindling toward obsolescence. The fleet of last-generation fast attack submarines will be dismantled entirely in the next decade.
But that’s not the end of its limitations. It can’t handle nuclear fuel, at a shipyard where almost all vessels that enter its six dry docks are nuclear-powered.
The dock itself is too shallow; the shipyard must remove weight from subs, wait for the highest tides and over-flood the dock for boats to enter, according to a recent GAO report.
Meanwhile, Mooring Alpha presents its own challenges. A mooring would need to be demolished, a new wharf constructed, and along with dredging, a new turning basin would be required, the Navy said.
The Navy says the new multi-mission dry dock will be able to maintain three new classes of nuclear-powered ships in one place:
- The Ford-class, a new generation of aircraft carrier that currently has no dry dock on the West Coast capable of handling one.
- The dry dock could also take on the Navy’s Virginia class, a new generation of ship-hunting, fast-attack submarines.
- And, in the next decade, the nuclear-weapon armed Columbia class submarineswhose sole mission is to provide the world’s most powerful weaponry to the country’s leaders, could also be serviced in the new dry dock.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism