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NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) -- A traditional way of building a dock is to drive piles, pour concrete pile caps and place the dock on top. More than 50 years ago, dock builders in Newport used a different method: sink two concrete Navy ships in Yaquina Bay, and build on top of them.

It's the marine equivalent of building a house with a basement instead of one supported with a post-and-beam foundation, at least in theory. In practice, the basement has some unpleasant surprises.

Port of Newport officials long planned to reestablish the port's cargo operations on the back of those sunken 350-foot ships. But one of the ships won't hold up.

The S.S. Pasley has cracked and leaked oil into the bay. Its instability caused port officials to change their plans to rebuild the docks. Now, the Pasley will be removed and a traditional dock will be built in its place. The S.S. Hennebique, a nearly identical 1944 concrete ship, will remain, with a future construction phase adding a dock in front of it.

While the Pasley has rocked and shifted with the tides, the Hennebique stayed put. "It's extremely stable," said Joshua Dodson, principal at Day CPM Services, the owner's representative and project manager for the international terminal project.

"(The Hennebique) was moored in place correctly," Dodson said. "The Pasley was just thrown up on the side of the bay." No one knows how long the Hennebique can last, Dodson said, but it has held up well for 60 years. "This thing was built stronger than the Parthenon, and the Parthenon is still there," he said.

Natt McDougall Co., the construction manager-general contractor for the project, is scheduled to start work this fall. The company and its subcontractors won't know how much hazardous material remains in the ships until they start working. They do know there's bunker fuel and asbestos piping, materials that can't just drift into the bay during construction.

"We'll have to, one, put in a pretty good-sized cofferdam surrounding the ship for containment," said Mike McDougall, project manager. "And, two, be able to demolish that ship within the cofferdam.

"That's the really big thing," McDougall said. "How do you get into this thing and dismantle it?"

The international terminal project in Newport will remove one of two sunken concrete ships and build a new pier. (Photo courtesy of Day CPM) There's no manual for dismantling concrete ships, McDougall said. Only 24 like the Pasley and Hennebique were built.

"We had to go to the Smithsonian to get the (design) drawings," he said. It turned out that there wasn't as much concrete in the ships as most people thought. "The walls on these ships are only six inches thick," McDougall said. "But there's a lot of rebar in it." Concrete from the Pasley will be cleaned and crushed for fill in the cleaned-out holds of the Hennebique.

With several other projects in the works around Yaquina Bay, including the new home for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Fleet and research projects, Newport is changing quickly, said Don Mann, general manager of the Port of Newport. The international terminal project is an important piece of the area's future, Mann said.

"This will get us back on track with more opportunities for the port," he said. Newport hasn't exported cargo for years, but Mann sees the new terminal serving log and lumber exporters and potentially other niche cargos, starting in 2013. Small cruise ships could even use the terminal.

"We can't do the Love Boat here," he said. "But we can get up to 600-foot-plus cruise vessels. Our target is the 300-to-400-foot ones that can travel the coast from California to Alaska."

The international terminal can also serve NOAA research ships, Mann said. The pier under construction now won't allow for heavy lifting of research equipment. "They can do tie-ups and light work on their pier and the heavy lift requirements at our terminal," he said.

The terminal project's first phase - to remove the Pasley, build a new dock in its place and clean out the Hennebique - will cost $14.8 million, including $13 million for construction. Future phases will cost $7.8 million, $6 million of it for construction. A Port of Newport general obligation bond and a $2.7 million Connect Oregon grant are paying for the project.

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