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Where the Kalakala belongs: Anywhere but here

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on May 8, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
May 8, 2012 5:29 pm
The Kalakala sits on the Hylebos Waterway March 28, 2012. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

It’s time to start writing chanteys – or maybe an epic poem – about the Kalakala. This floating calamity has entered the realm of legend.

Like the Flying Dutchman, the decrepit art deco ferry carries a curse, with its saga getting ever more twisted. Maybe it’s inhabited by ghosts, passengers fox-trotting to the Flying Bird Orchestra, which once played swing hits on its moonlight cruises around Puget Sound. Those who get too close to the Kalakala winds up beached on their dreams.

The immense, eerily decayed vessel has now snared its owner, its landlord, the Port of Tacoma, Citizens for a Healthy Bay, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard in its baleful spell.

For eight years, the Kalakala has been moored on the Hylebos Waterway at a berth owned by Tacoma businessman Karl Anderson. Anderson must rue the day he offered the spot to the hulk’s owner, Steve Rodrigues.

Others who had hosted the haunted hulk, the Makah Tribe and a landowner on Lake Union in Seattle, were ultimately able to get it towed off after extended battles. But Anderson and the port look very, very stuck with it.

If it stays put and sinks – only a matter if time, if nothing is done – it could plug navigation on the Hylebos. If it sank, the efforts to salvage it could undo a costly Superfund cleanup by stirring up toxic chemicals now capped beneath the waterway.

It’s got to go. But where? How? And who pays?

The vision of restoring the ferry to its former elegance has proven a hallucination: too much grog down the hatches, maybe. Peter Bevis, the Seattle sculptor who found it rotting on an Alaskan mudflat, lost a fortune getting it floated again and towed down to Lake Union. Rodrigues says his own effort to market the vessel has left him homeless and penniless.

Nearly everyone but Rodrigues would now settle for wrecking the Kalakala or towing it out to sea and bequeathing it to Davy Jones. But disposing of it threatens to cost far more than the $1 million the Corps of Engineers says it can get from the National Emergency Sunken Vessel fund.

So Tacoma – where else? – gets saddled with this undead, scary-looking derelict.

Other doomed vessels – the Titanic, the Lusitania, the galleons of the Spanish Main – achieved immortality by bidding farewell to the living. The Kalakala has achieved it by not taking the hint.

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