When the Navy gave the decommissioned USS Yorktown to the state of South Carolina in 1975, the aircraft carrier arrived at Patriots Point with more than 160,000 gallons of fuel onboard in 129 tanks.
Now, more than four decades later, 60,000 gallons of that fuel and other hazardous liquid is being removed. Patriots Point has contracted with AAA Utility and Construction to remove the fuel for $132,000, Director of Operations Bob Howard said. The funding for the project is coming from Patriots Point's reserve account.
"The last time this ship would have taken on fuel for any reason would have been in 1970," Howard said.
In addition to fuel, the tanks include ballast water that was added to help the Yorktown settle into its current mooring location. The water, mixed with oil residue, is considered hazardous waste and must be separated from the fuel.
The fuel goes through a 400-foot hose to a truck on the Patriots Point pier. Once full, the truck takes the fuel to tanks near Patriots Point, which are driven to a facility in Jacksonville, Fla. At that facility, the oil and water is separated, treated and recycled, said Moran project manager Bob Carroll.
The crews can remove between 10,000 and 14,000 gallons per day, Carroll said. After the fuel is removed from a tank, crews power wash the tanks using 165-degree water.
Howard said the remaining 100,000 gallons will likely be removed in the next two or three years depending on Patriots Point’s budget.
"We have a long, long way to go on the entire project, but you've got to start somewhere, and we have officially begun," Howard said.
Collins Engineering conducted a structural assessment of the Yorktown in 2015, finding that the ship poses no immediate risk to the environment but that its hull needs about $40 million in repairs that will take place over the next 25 years. Before the metal hull can be repaired, the flammable fuel must be removed.
“Before we can tackle the larger projects called for in the 2015 structural assessment of the ship, we have to remove that fuel and oily water mixtures that have been found onboard,” Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette said in a news release. “Foremost in our mind is the removal of this hazardous fuel so that an accidental puncture or leak can never threaten Charleston Harbor.”
While the work is being done, the Yorktown will remain open to the public.