While the Foss Waterway Seaport was preparing for its grand opening last weekend, its attorneys served volunteers at the tug Comanche with an eviction notice, raising questions about both the future of the historic vessel and the direction of the waterfront museum.
Suffice it to say, there is a battle about the whole issue. But the Comanche is no stranger to battle.
The 143-foot Naval tug was built in 1944 and served in World War II, when it saw combat during the invasion of Okinawa and even received a Battle Star for towing battle-damaged ships out of the line of fire to U.S. Navy facilities for repair. Its post-war career included 21 years as a Coast Guard cutter. She gave the first U.S. "notice of a violation" ever given to a foreign fishing vessel on the Pacific Coast fisheries and also has a roster of seaborne vessel “saves.”
After she was decommissioned, the Comanche worked the Gulf of Mexico and Tacoma’s waterways as a private tug for 17 years before it was donated to a historically minded nonprofit that restored it to its military markings. The vessel has been moored along the Foss Waterway, which the Seaport manages for the City of Tacoma. The Comanche serves as a floating museum, being the only fully restored vessel of its kind on the West Coast and hosts a program for at-risk youth.
The nonprofit has been paying month-to-month rent to the Seaport museum for years without a formal lease agreement.
“We have asked for a rental agreement for some time,” Comanche Director of Operations Joe Peterson said. “It has always been put off.”
Fast-forward to this month: Seaport officials served Comanche volunteers with a notice to leave the waterfront, citing the vessel’s lack of insurance. Insurance is a requirement for moorage as a way to cover the city’s liability if the vessel is involved in an accident or environmental mishap.
“We and the city have to do that to protect the waterway,” Seaport Interim Director Ken Leonard said. “We’ve held off the city for as long as we can. We feel we have been very patient here. We can’t let that go.”
Leonard said he had tried to work with the Comanche group since January about the insurance issue, and city attorneys were pressing the issue.
There is, however, apparently no formal agreement between the Comanche and the Seaport that outlines the need for insurance.
“They never indicated we needed insurance,” Peterson said. “That took us totally by surprise.”
The group has since been working to get insurance for the Tacoma moorage site, and it has routinely gotten insurance for when Comanche leaves Tacoma waters for maritime shows around Puget Sound, Peterson said, stating that the eviction notice is less about insurance and more about apparent changes at the waterfront museum.
“I don’t think it will make a difference,” Peterson said. “I think they want a Hollywood prop. They don’t want us there. It is not part of their dream.”
Peterson noted that the Comanche only came to Tacoma when former Seaport Director Tom Cashman invited the vessel to the museum’s waterfront.
“It’s a sad statement on how we were treated,” Peterson said, noting that the vessel is set to be dry docked for some work and repainting as it seeks a new home.
In a follow-up about the eviction notice that was apparently sparked by a lack of insurance, something the Comanche apparently now has, Leonard got legal.
“No comment,” he wrote in a response. “When we see insurance documents, we can entertain any requests. That dock was never intended to be for long-term moorage, but rather for visiting vessels.”
Peterson experienced the same response.
“They don’t talk to us,” he said. “We are just renters and we are renters without a rental agreement, and that’s not by our decision. We want to stay there.”
As the eviction works its way through the legal process and mouths snap shut for interviews, the issue is also playing out on social media, which has so far not been kind to Seaport.