Concerns are being raised about the final stop for a storied former U.S. Coast Guard vessel sent from Suisun Bay's "mothball fleet" to Mexico for scrapping last month.
Environmental concerns related to ships in the federal government's Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet have been an ongoing issue for years, often boiling down to a battle between federal officials and environmental agencies.
The latest scuffle includes an emerging third party -- historical preservationists vying to rescue some of those ships from metal scrapping.
Last month, one such battle came to a head. Officials working for years to persuade federal officials to hand over the retired U.S. Coast Guard ice cutter Storis to a nonprofit to serve as a museum ship were shocked first when the vessel was auctioned off by the federal General Services Administration this summer, then towed to Mexico. A spokeswoman for the GSA could not be reached for comment.
At the urging of interested parties, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched an investigation into whether the Storis may contain toxin levels illegally high for foreign export, officials confirmed Wednesday.
The Storis -- used for decades for law enforcement, search and rescue and fisheries work in Alaska -- was sold to San Diego-based U.S. Metals Recovery LLC on June 28 for $70,100. There was an initial requirement that the vessel be removed from the Suisun Bay Reserve "Mothball" Fleet by July 12.
"On Oct. 21, EPA received information that the Storis was potentially being exported by U.S. Metals Recovery to Mexico for scrapping and that the ship could contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in concentrations greater than or equal to 50 parts per million," a spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency wrote in an emailed statement. "EPA immediately began investigating to determine if the vessel contained PCBs, and if so, at what level. This investigation remains ongoing."
The ship has called the federally managed Suisun Bay fleet home since its 2007 retirement from the Coast Guard.
Jon Ottman, a Michigan marine historian and consultant working with Storis Museum and Education Center officials, raised concerns that U.S. Metals Recovery seems to have no physical presence -- website, office phone or physical location -- to which to bring complaints about the out-of-country delivery.
He added that a man associated with U.S. Metals Recovery and the sale, Mark Jurisich, allegedly asked nonprofit Storis Museum officials for $250,000 to sell the vessel instead of scrapping it. Efforts to reach Jurisich were unsuccessful.
Before the auction in June, volunteers looking to preserve the Storis initially planned to bring the vessel to Juneau, Alaska, where it had spent much of its career, and to become a museum ship and train young Sea Cadets.
Later, an effort from Toledo, Ohio, where the vessel was built, took the lead. Also in the running for the ship were the California Ships to Reefs group. It wanted to have the vessel sunk and used as an artificial reef when word came that the bidding process did not result in a buyer reaching a minimum-set bid price.
The Storis "made history in 1957 when it led two other Coast Guard cutters through icy waters near the North Pole and into the Atlantic Ocean," and "became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the North American continent," according to Bay Area News Group articles written about the ship upon its retirement.
In 2012, the Storis was listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the help of a nomination penned by Ottman. The nomination notes that the Storis is one of the last remaining vessels that participated in the World War II Greenland Patrols.
For more information on the Storis, go to www.storismuseum.org.