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Tourism Coastal Commission OKs the Midway carrier museum



Coastal Panel OKs Bayfront Museum

In the wake of the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous approval of the Midway Museum last week, a new chapter has begun for the organizations involved with the aircraft carrier project.

The museum was the most controversial part of a larger waterfront project, the North Embarcadero Redevelopment Plan. The entire plan was approved by commissioners March 14.

Approval of the floating museum and its mooring at Navy Pier on the Embarcadero is considered a milestone.

Some saw it as a hurdle that might not be overcome, noted Alan Uke, president of the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum.

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Board members are expected to create a plan of action for completing the project’s remaining requirements and beginning fund-raising “in earnest,” he said.

Uke expects the carrier will be here next April, in time for 2002’s main tourism season.

Towing the Midway to San Diego from its current Bremerton, Wash., berth will cost $250,000, he said.

Funds to cover that cost have already been set aside from a $3.5 million loan from San Diego-based First National Bank, which was guaranteed by members of a Founder’s Circle within the Carrier Museum organization, he said.

The loan will also pay for getting the museum ready to open, but money needs to be raised for creating additional exhibits, general maintenance and restoring planes and other objects so they are ready when the Midway arrives, he said.

Once the project has officially opened, it will operate under an annual budget of $7.5 million, Uke said. It will go toward items such as general maintenance, developing exhibits and paying off the $3.5 million loan.

Uke also hopes to set up an additional endowment for major maintenance projects in the Midway’s far-off future.

As of now, no fund-raising goals have been set, he said.

Other tasks include negotiating with the Navy on sharing utility lines on Navy Pier. Another is finalizing if the Midway’s catapult arresters, which protrude 20-30 feet out and 50 feet above the water’s surface, require permits from the state’s Land Commission.

Getting the Midway Museum past the approval stage cost $1.7 million, Uke said. The project involved a series of studies, consultants, and logistical and administrative work, he said. It also involved setting up a wetlands site in National City that will be considered mitigation for the Midway’s environmental impact to San Diego Bay.

Now that coastal commissioners have approved the project, the San Diego Unified Port District becomes responsible for enforcing the project’s conditions and in turn, issuing the Midway group a coastal development permit to proceed.

Two main changes were proposed by commissioners and accepted by the Port at last week’s meeting.

One involved the wetlands site that the group will fund and maintain to make up for the carrier berth’s impact on the harbor. So far, buying the site and additional design work has cost $1 million, Uke said.

Commissioners wanted funds for the National City site to be placed up front, ensuring that the marsh would be created. They also wanted the Midway group to provide assurance that they would fund the enhancement of the wetlands in upcoming years, and regular reports.

“(March 14) was really the deciding factor on the project,” said Ralph Hicks, San Diego Unified Port District’s director of land use planning. The rest is more or less paperwork, Hicks explained.

The second change involves a park that has been considered integral to maintaining harbor views that will be partly blocked by the 190-foot-tall, 1,000-foot-long carrier.

Coastal commissioners asked the port to change its own master plan and recognize that if the Navy Pier is turned over to the port, they are committed to turning it over to the Midway organizers, who will make it into a public park.

The pier has been a point of contention for the project’s approval. The Coastal Commission’s staff, which advised against the Midway part of the Embarcadero’s redevelopment plan, was hesitant because the Navy has given no assurances as to when they will turn over the pier to the port.

The Navy uses the pier for automobile parking.

Whether the pier will ever be turned over is still “a gamble,” said Diana Lilly, coastal planner with the Coastal Commission.

Hicks confirmed that the port has no control as to when it could happen.

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