Whaling ship Morgan will have roots in Texas

nick de la torre, houston chronicle/ap This April 15, 2009, file photo shows oak trees lining Broadway Avenue at the 25th Street intersection in Galveston, Texas. Forestry officials touring areas of Galveston flooded by Hurricane Ike determined the city lost as much as 80 percent of its tree canopy. Now Mystic Seaport plans to obtain some of the live oak and truck it back to Connecticut to be used in the restoration of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan.

Mystic - After Hurricane Ike struck Galveston, Texas, last September, many of the city's stately oaks, elms and other large trees remained standing.

Still, 10 months later, as many as 40,000 of the city's trees are estimated to be dead or dying because they were poisoned by the saltwater that engulfed the city for 24 hours, a condition that was exacerbated by a drought that followed the storm.

City and state officials now face the monumental task of clearing away the trees to make sure they do not injure people or cause property damage.

And while many of these majestic trees may end up in landfills, Mystic Seaport is making sure that some of the live oak - an evergreen oak that grows in the South - is put to good use, something that has provided some solace for Galveston residents.

Quentin Snediker, the director of the museum's shipyard, just returned from a weeklong trip to Galveston in which he worked with officials to identify the huge, live oaks that the museum can use in its restoration of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan. Live oak was the one of the species used to build the 168-year-old Morgan, which is the world's last surviving wooden whaling ship.

"We're excited that some of these trees are going to be reused. The residents don't want to see them all wasted," Peter Smith of the Texas Forestry Service said Thursday.

Smith said the plan to cut down the oaks for the Morgan and then have the museum pay to transport them to Mystic is one of the few solutions that won't cost the city a lot of money. He pointed out that the plan also makes sense because both communities share a rich shipbuilding history.

"Galveston has a connection in history to Mystic, so it makes it appealing to do this," he said.

Smith said that while hurricanes typically damage trees with their high winds, the situation in Galveston has been much more insidious, with many of the city's trees going into permanent decline and failing to sprout new leaves in the spring.

"When you walk through town, it looks like it's winter," he said.

Smith said it is estimated that 50 percent of the city's tree canopy has been destroyed. He said 11,000 trees on public property are dead or dying along with an estimated 30,000 more on private property.

In the city's historic neighborhoods, he said, 90 percent of the trees are dying and need to be removed.

"It's a monumental disaster," Snediker said.

Faced with chopping up their beloved trees and dumping them in a landfill, Galveston residents began looking at what good could come from them, Smith said. Officials discovered that Mystic Seaport had obtained live oaks damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to help restore the Morgan. A preservationist familiar with the Morgan project then contacted Snediker.

In Galveston, Snediker worked with Smith and other officials to identify 80 large trees the museum can use.

"The majority of the live oaks are not suitable for our purposes, but many of them are," he said.

The selected trees will be preserved in the large pieces that are needed to fashion the framing for the Morgan. Combined with the wood the museum already has, the museum will have all the materials needed to complete the framing. Snediker said that between four and eight truckloads of wood will be hauled back to Mystic late next month. It will then be milled into the pieces needed for the Morgan project.

In addition, Snediker is working to help acquire wood for nonprofit groups in Maryland, Massachusetts and Philadelphia that have historic ships in need of restoration.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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