Dismantling dry dock offers new hope for Vallejo

Child care worker accused of sex abuse. Plus, another ship pulled from the Suisun Bay Moth Ball fleet.

February 2, 2011 6:26:50 PM PST
Tugboats are preparing to move the former steam freighter SS Solon Turman to Vallejo for cleaning and recycling. The Turman it is the first ship to be processed at new Mare Island recycling facility -- the only one of its kind on the West Coast.

They waited for a ship to come in on Mare Island, today. That description would be both literal and figurative.

"The ship isn't in, so there's nothing we can do," noted Rodney A. Davis, who hoped for a job and dressed like it, in a brightly colored vest, and strong work boots. "If you want a job, look the part," he said.

Davis was among some thirty people standing outside a chain link gate, hoping that the new Mare Island Dry Docks would include him among an anticipated 110 new employees. The start-up has contracts to dismantle two ships from the Suisun Bay Mothball fleet. The first of them, a cargo vessel named 'Solemn Turmen' was scheduled to dock at 11 a.m., but became delayed.

"Right now, there are fifty ships in the mothball fleet, and all can be recycled here," Jay Anast, one of the company founders said. "The Navy spends millions of dollars and 500,000 gallons of fuel to send those ships to Texas for dismantling. Why not do it here? Mare Island is six miles away."

Since the United States Navy left in 1996, much of the Mare Island complex has gone to seed and ruin, with broken windows, peeling paint, graffiti and weeds covering barbecues and benches.

"Ever since Mare Island closed it has been like a ghost town in Vallejo," observed Davis.

The 44-year-old grandfather lost his last steady job two years ago, but not his faith.

"I was here, yesterday. I'm here, today. I want them to know my face. I want to be here when they need someone," he said.

Aside from Rodney's perseverance, the numbers go against him. Mare Island Dry Docks has received 3,000 applications in the past 45 days.

"There is no way to look through them all. We need to make the best decision in hiring," Anast said. "There are too many of them. You go through one at a time and start picking."

Already, the company has hired 50 people and many of them worked here before the base closed, and have put their institutional memories to good use. For instance, the company had expected it would need to buy new rigging, but the old-timers knew where on the base it had been stashed away.

Jack Remington said worked on Mare Island for 33 years and even at 69 years-old, he cannot imagine not being here.

It's the same for Tanya Wigger, who looks more like a pretty stay-at-home mom than a marine machines mechanic, worked on the old base, as well. In the years since, she opened a day spa, and has a teenage daughter. But, when Tanya received a job offer to work underground, in the bowels of these old dry docks, she took it in a day.

"It's wonderful. It's awesome," she said while choking back tears. "I want to be productive, and to do something that is helping everyone else, out there."

Only one bit of news dampened this day. The Solemn Turmen did not arrive, due to winds and tide.

"We're hoping for tomorrow," said Jay Anast.

"We always have tomorrow," echoed Jack Remington.

Tomorrow -- at Mare Island, there is hope in that word, and after so many years of waiting, what is one more day?