Viewing of Hunley still not decided

Sunday, September 10, 2000

Of The Post and Courier staff

     Plans to open the Hunley conservation lab for public viewing are up in the air, faced with a slew of legal and safety hurdles.
     Officials still are shooting for a Sept. 23 opening, followed by viewings every Saturday up to November.
     But there are nagging concerns about security, letting children near the sub's holding tank and whether access has to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act.
     Right now that might be a hard reach: To get to the sub, visitors must climb a 10-foot rise of stairs at the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab in North Charleston, then walk across a metal mezzanine and sometimes narrow catwalk.
     Computer equipment, pipes, hoses, other foot traps and equipment are everywhere.
     "We never really looked at this as an exhibit area," Hunley project manager Dr. Bob Neyland said.
     State Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, chairman of the state Hunley Commission, said Friday he's turned over all the contractual, legal and insurance questions to Attorney General Charlie Condon's office for review.
     He won't be able to make a final decision on going ahead with the public viewing until those questions are answered.
     "What we are struggling with ... is how can we accomplish (the viewing) and not expose people to unrealistic danger, or the state of South Carolina to unreasonable liability, or the commission to personal liability," McConnell said.
     He added that the only way viewing should be done is for the public to be able to get close to the sub. Otherwise, the experience might be a hollow one.
     "The Hunley will silently talk to you, if you are that close," McConnell said.
     Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people are expected to line up for a glimpse of the sub. McConnell estimated that as many as 30 people could be moved through the tour every 20 minutes, raising more than $10,000 a day on ticket sales or donations.
     On the safety issue, McConnell said one option is to have visitors sign a waiver acknowledging the risks of touring through a working industrial laboratory.
     Regarding security, McConnell said metal detectors and State Law Enforcement Division agents will be on hand during viewing to make sure no one attempts to approach the sub improperly.
     The Hunley is being kept in a cold-water storage tank inside a converted warehouse at the old Charleston Naval Shipyard. The tank, about the size of a railroad car, is 10 feet high.
     Officials estimate it could take years to restore the sub, and that they can't begin the initial phase of entering the sealed vessel until the public viewing time is concluded.

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