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Heroic Tug May Find Riverfront Home


Tom Robinson, a local history buff who helped build the now-bankrupt Richmond Fire and Police Museum, believes his foundation's heroic tugboat could help.

The city owns the stretch of land on the James River at the site of the old Intermediate Terminal building. It is where the Annabel Lee is docked. (There are no plans to move the Annabel Lee.)

Robinson believes those 50 riverfront acres, which cross from the city line into Henrico County, are the perfect place for the Tamaroa, the boat that saved lives in the storm depicted in Sebastian Junger's best-selling book "The Perfect Storm."

Robinson is working to convince the city that it could benefit from permanently harboring the 205-foot salvage tug, which once saved soldiers' lives at Iwo Jima.

"Ultimately our goal is to make it a public space for the people to enjoy," says John Woodward, Richmond's economic-development director. "If we can work out an arrangement with the boat to serve as a catalyst for attraction down there, that would be great." Woodward also notes that the city aims to improve the land in tandem with private development nearby.

The city has its vision for the land. It could be used for everything from boats to bikes. Recently officials earmarked $500,000 for improvements to the site and the dock there. Woodward says he'd like to see a bike path installed that stretches along the river from the Turning Basin east into Henrico County. In Pittsburgh, he points out, city officials even succeeded in getting money for their bike path from federal Department of Transportation funds.

Robinson would rather see the city support his idea to turn the Intermediate Terminal building into a maritime museum. Until then, Robinson hopes the city's half-million-dollar investment means chances are good the Tamaroa has found a future home.

Originally commissioned in 1943 as the USS Zuni, the Tamaroa served as a Navy tug until she was decommissioned and transferred to the Coast Guard in 1946. In 1994 the Coast Guard decommissioned the Tamaroa.

Recently Robinson founded the Tamaroa Maritime Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the Tamaroa and promote it as a way to educate the public about the role that working vessels such as cutters and tugs play in maritime heritage. "This boat has saved lives," Robinson says. "It has one of the best records of all time." — B.W.

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