By Ted Land with photographer Rich Jordan
Channel 2 News
11:29 AM AKST, December 20, 2010
A dedicated group of Alaskans are trying to arrange a homecoming of sorts for a piece of maritime history, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea.
People like to think that after a lifetime of hard work and public service, retirement would be a time to celebrate one's accomplishments. But that's not always the case.
“It’s kind of sad to just think of her sitting down in a mothball fleet and possibly eventually just going away,” said retired Coast Guardsman Brett Farrell.
What today sits as a lifeless hull on California's Sacramento River was once the pride of the Coast Guard fleet in Alaska.
“The proof's in the pudding. She did it for almost 60, almost 70 years, most of which running around the Bering Sea and came back every time,” Farrell said of the cutter Storis.
He spent about two years working as chief electrician onboard the Storis.
“Our job was to keep foreign vessels from fishing in our waters,” he said.
Despite the often mundane missions, Brett best describes his connection to the ship with a story about the time a woman from Nome boarded on a tour and teared up when she saw the sick bay where she gave birth to the son she recently lost.
“Her son's middle name was Storis actually, so you just don't hear stories like that on any other cutter that I've been attached to,” Farrell said.
Other former crew members recall the time the Storis was first to arrive on a scene off the coast of St. Paul Island. The Alaskan Monarch, a fishing vessel, had run aground.
When the situation became truly desperate, it was the Coast Guard that saved the crew’s lives.
But perhaps Storis' most significant accomplishment was in 1957 when it and two other ships made the first sailing of the Northwest Passage over the top of North America, a route explorers had chased for centuries.
Storis was decommissioned in 2007 and sent to California, and someday, possibly the scrapper.
But a group of former crewmembers and Juneau residents have other plans.
Joe Geldhof is an attorney and history buff who thinks Juneau's million or so cruise ship visitors are looking for something a little more educational during their visits.
“There's a lot of activities for people but they usually cost a lot of money. Then there's of course shopping down here,” he said.
Geldhof helped form the non-profit Storis Museum, with the goal of someday taking possession of the vessel and permanently docking it in the state capital.
But it could take a few years.
“There's a little bit of friction back in Washington about Alaska and we've been trapped in sort of never-never land with that,” Geldhof said.
The concept of the federal government handing over money, or in this case, assets, to states, is not exactly popular these days among some members of Congress who see the Storis project as pork.
Lawmakers dropped a provision this past October which would have sent the vessel north.
The Storis Museum says it's not giving up. They say it's only a matter of time and point out they even have the Coast Guard on their side.
“Wouldn't that be great if we could get the Storis to come to Juneau? It'd be wonderful. I hope it can be done,” said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Chris Colvin.
Stories don't always end the way people would like, but the Storis is not finished yet.
The Storis Museum says if all goes right, they could give the first tours in 2013, but realistically they say it's looking more like 2014.
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