The nation’s ninth-busiest port is at risk of pollution by more than 100,000 gallons of fuel from a Navy aircraft carrier that served in World War II and the Vietnam War before its decommissioning and designation as a National Historic Landmark.
The USS Yorktown — located in Charleston Harbor — is experiencing continued corrosion on its outer hull. If hazardous materials leak into the harbor, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster warned it would impair commercial shipping and harm the ecosystem.
McMaster — who has supported environmental protection in office but failed to get the endorsement of conservation groups in his 2018 gubernatorial bid — took steps Monday to minimize that risk.
Speaking at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, the Republican governor announced an executive order directing the state’s Office of Resilience to study the cost of remediation efforts and remove all 140,000 gallons (530,000 liters) of fuel from the USS Yorktown.
The aircraft carrier also picked up the Apollo 8 crew and spacecraft in 1968 after the first human mission to the moon.
“This is a special place for a whole lot of reasons,” McMaster said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “It’s been entrusted to us. And we have to be sure that it continues to flourish.”
U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina called the action “a win for our community” and “for the environment.”
Two of the substances found on the ship are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls, according to Robert Boyles, Jr., director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Those two substances are not water soluble. If they are not removed, Boyles said they could accumulate in the sediment and sit at the bottom of Charleston Harbor “for a long time.”
Mount Pleasant Mayor Will Haynie, an ex-officio member of the Patriots Point Development Authority Board, said the executive order would protect the state’s coastline as well as its seafood and tourism industries.
“When you pick up any piece of grass or any twig, you realize you’re connected to the entire universe,” Haynie said, paraphrasing naturalist John Muir. “Everything on that ship, effectively, can negatively affect the entire universe.”