Shared from the 10/24/2020 Post & Courier eEdition

Pandemic redirects funds for Clamagore

Patriot’s Point Museum in ‘survival mode’ as it waits to sink submarine

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FILE/GAVIN MCINTYRE/STAFF

The fate of the USS Clamagore housed at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant is up in the air again.

Early this year, fans of the Clamagore knew it was time to plan their last visits to the historic submarine. It was expected to close to visitors by late spring so its caretaker, the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, could start preparing it for its chosen fate.

State lawmakers had agreed to spend $2.7 million to sink the Cold War sub off South Carolina’s shores, where it would serve as an artificial reef. The funding would end a lengthy debate over what to do with the aging vessel, which Patriots Point views as a financial threat for the state-owned military museum and an environmental risk for Charleston Harbor, where it’s been docked since 1981.

Opponents of the decision argued South Carolina was sinking an important piece of history.

While the Clamagore has, as expected, not been open to visitors for most of the year, it’s not because of its impending reefing.

Space inside the retired vessel, which according to Patriots Point’s website is the “only GUPPY III submarine preserved in the U.S.,” is too tight to allow for social distancing. As a result, it’s one of the areas that’s remained closed even after the museum was allowed to reopen in mid-May after COVID-19 shutdowns.

The sub is closed off indefinitely for that reason, but it’s unclear what will happen with it next.

Patriots Point received bids for the reefing earlier this year, but none of them qualified because they all exceeded the $2.7 million that was set aside to pay for the project, museum spokesman Chris Hauff said.

Bidding was closed March 20, just a couple days after the visitor attraction shut its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, executive director Larry Murray said, the museum has been in “survival mode.”

The General Assembly has given Patriots Point permission to put the $2.7 million it had allocated for the Clamagore’s reefing into its reserve account to pay for operating expenses as the attraction works to weather the financial setbacks of the pandemic.

Lawmakers included the change in a bill adopted in late September that was primarily used to allocate federal funds for COVID-19 relief. The bill cites “extraordinary challenges” the museum faces.

Murray has predicted Patriots Point’s revenue could be halved this fiscal year because of the drop in admissions and the loss of other income sources like overnight camping programs, which remain suspended.

Ticket sales picked up substantially in September and October, but Patriots Point is approaching colder months that, even in a normal year, operate at a deficit.

Without adding the funds redirected from the reefing, there likely wouldn’t have been enough left in the reserves to carry through to the spring, Hauff said.

At the end of February, just before the pandemic reached South Carolina and ahead of what would typically be the start of Patriots Point’s busy season, the museum’s cash reserves were at $4.6 million. After dipping into those funds for operating expenses, $2.8 million was left in August.

Adding the money from the Clamagore project will give the museum about $5.5 million to draw from over the late fall and winter, Hauff said. While that helps the museum in the short run, it also means no money will be set aside for the Clamagore’s reefing, and state lawmakers will have to revisit the funding issue.

Last year, there was enough support to pay for the Clamagore’s cleanup and removal that lawmakers overwhelmingly overturned a veto from Gov. Henry McMaster.

State officials have described sinking the vessel as the best of three bad options. Another is to restore the sub, which Patriots Points has said would cost millions more.

Or the Clamagore could stay where it is in its current condition “to rot and wait until we have another hurricane,” as state Rep. Murrell Smith put it last year.

A group of submarine veterans that goes by the Clamagore Restoration and Maintenance Association has fought to have the vessel preserved. It also filed a lawsuit against the museum hoping to block the reefing project, but the complaint was dismissed in March.

Moving forward, Murray said Patriots Point will keep state lawmakers up-to-date on the museum’s financial situation and will “confirm it’s still their desire to make it a reef.” Until then, the submarine will keep waiting, this time without the company of visitors.

Reach Emily Williams at

843-607-0894. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

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