Condition of pier jeopardizes children's fair

Coast Guard concerned about site of Sanctuary, which will hold event

May 27, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Up to 1,000 schoolchildren are expected to board the former Navy hospital ship the Sanctuary tomorrow for health screenings and lessons in fire and gun safety -- provided the U.S. Coast Guard resolves concerns about the condition of its pier.

The students -- from 20 elementary, middle and high schools in southern, southeast and southwest Baltimore -- are to visit the eight-story, 14,000-ton ship at the North Locust Point Marine Terminal for screenings by staff from the University of Maryland School of Nursing, as well as several private hospitals and health companies. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose office is helping to hold the event, is scheduled to attend.

In a letter this week to Project Life, the nonprofit organization that owns the ship and hopes to use it for a program to treat recovering drug addicts, a Coast Guard official noted that an examination showed Pier 6, where the Sanctuary is docked, to be "in an apparent state of deterioration."

After receiving an engineer's report yesterday, Lt. Commander Brian F. Poskaitis, chief of the operations prevention division in Baltimore, said some questions about the vessel and its surroundings remain. He thought the fair would probably go on as scheduled if the questions could be answered.

"We want it to happen, too," Poskaitis said. "This is a great thing. The bottom line is that our main concern is the safety of the children and personnel."

The Coast Guard has jurisdiction over the safety of vessels and other structures in and around navigable waters under the federal Ports and Waterways Safety Act.

Judi Scioli, spokeswoman for the Maryland Port Administration, said that because of the concerns, the port is blocking off the pier to vehicles tomorrow and building a walkway that will lead the children from their buses onto the ship.

Organizers of the event said they've also taken steps to make sure the fair is safe and enjoyable. Project Life President Stephen J. Hammer said the ship would have extra security and doors would be taped shut to keep children from wandering.

"We believe that what will be happening for these students is a very informative and productive day," said Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore City school system.

But several neighbors -- who say the Sanctuary doesn't belong at the terminal -- aren't convinced.

"I've got a concern about the safety of the children," said Del. Brian K. McHale, a southern Baltimore Democrat who has opposed the Sanctuary's location at the port. "It would have made so much more sense to have this in a public building that you know is safe for public assembly."

Joyce Bauerle, president of the Locust Point Civic Association, said she wasn't told about the event. "Don't you think the community associations should have been advised?" she asked. "We're left in the dark."

The Sanctuary, which housed 25,000 wounded in the Vietnam War during its last tour of duty, has been docked at the terminal for three years while Project Life has tried to start its program for addicts.

The project has been stalled for years because the ship lacks a permanent berth -- its home is month-to-month. Project Life board members have sued the state in federal court, claiming that port officials have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide them a home. The port has said concerns about safety and a need to use the port for businesses caused the delays.

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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