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Agency ends plan to restore old ship for Dunkirk harbor

A plan by a group of World War II Navy veterans to save a surplus ship and display it as a floating museum on the Dunkirk waterfront has been sunk.

Officials of the U.S. Maritime Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, have ended restoration plans for the USS Sphinx, a WWII landing ship transport.

Instead, the ship will be scrapped.

"The environmental risk posed by the USS Sphinx, due to her age and advanced deterioration, makes the ship one of the agency's highest priorities," Maritime Administrator Sean T. Connaughton wrote those involved in the effort.

Stacy Mosser, a retired Navy veteran who lives in East Aurora, said the effort by the Western New York Amphibious Forces Association was worth it.

"I'm not bitter," she said. "That's life. We stirred up a few people; that's good."

The Sphinx was launched in November 1944 as a landing ship tank transport; was refitted as a supply ship; saw duty in WWII, Korea and Vietnam; and was used to help anti-drug efforts in South America.

The local veterans had been granted ownership of the ship in 2002 and had begun a fund-raising effort to have the ship towed to Dunkirk from Newport News, Va., where it had been mothballed.

Harold Lawson, keeper of the historic Dunkirk Lighthouse, said plans had called for the ship to be moored on a permanent pier near the lighthouse, which dates to before the War of 1812.

The costs of towing and setting up the ship's new home were expected to reach as high as $1.2 million.

The veterans group has sent out a letter to those who had been solicited for funds, telling them the effort is over. Most of the money the veterans raised, about $36,000 had been spent on a professional fund-raiser, they said.

e-mail: mbeebe@buffnews.com

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