New owner, tasks ahead for Sundew?If Superior businessman Jeff Foster has his way, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sundew will be back in action, cruising under the Aerial Lift Bridge next season.
By: By Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune , Superior Telegram
If Superior businessman Jeff Foster has his way, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Sundew will be back in action, cruising under the Aerial Lift Bridge next season.
Foster recently tendered the only qualifying bid for the Sundew when the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center put it up for auction. He offered to buy the retired buoytender for just over $100,000 — the minimum acceptable bid.
"It’s still not a done deal,” Foster said Monday.
The Sundew was donated to the DECC in 2004 with the understanding that it would be placed on public display for a minimum of five years. That amount of time has elapsed, but the General Services Administration, which oversees the sale of surplus government property, as of Monday had not signed off on the deal, said Dan Russell, the DECC’s executive director.
Russell said a GSA representative questioned whether the DECC has fulfilled its obligations with the Sundew open for public tours only half the year, suggesting the cutter may need to be on display for 10 years before it can be sold.
Last week, the DECC’s board of directors authorized the sale, contingent upon approval by the feds.
The old buoytender has failed to attract a sufficient number of visitors to cover the costs of docking, maintaining and staffing it during the tourist season.
Foster said he has been peppered with questions since he came to light as a likely owner of the vessel.
"I can’t tell you how many people have asked me: ‘What are you going to do with the Sundew?’ ” he said.
So far, however, he’s provided few clues, except to say that should he become its owner, the vessel will again be operating under its own power next year.
"This vessel will be used on the water,” he said. “We plan to use it for several applications in, around and outside the harbor. … The Sundew is capable of a huge range of industrial operations.”
The 180-foot vessel is equipped with heavy cranes that were used to handle buoys and other aids to navigation. The Sundew also boasts a heavy welded hull, enabling it to break ice.
“People on the waterfront have come up with some spectacular ideas of work the vessel would be suited for,” he said.
The owner of Jeff Foster Trucking Inc., Foster considers himself an informed buyer.
“When I learned it was for sale, I took a group of folks from our mechanical crew to look at the Sundew, and they examined it from one end to the other,” he said. “What we found showed the Coast Guard must have loved that vessel. They took great pains to keep it in good shape.”
Although Foster said the Sundew can be returned to productive use, he said nostalgia also played a role in his effort to buy it.
“It’s a beautiful vessel that admittedly needs some TLC,” he said, noting that the 65-year-old ship has a lot of significant local ties, having been built in Duluth and operated out of the city for much of its life.
“It’s an icon of the harbor,” Foster said.
An avid boater, Foster said he’s eager to do what he can to preserve the Sundew as part of the Twin Ports’ history. His roots run deep in the maritime community. He noted that his grandfather served as captain of the Joseph H. Thompson, a 706-foot laker.
Foster has a Coast Guard license to operate up to a 100-ton vessel, but he’ll need to upgrade that if he hopes to captain the 1,200-ton Sundew.
Until he gets the Sundew ready for action, Foster at least has a place to tie up the cutter. He owns the former Georgia Pacific facility in Superior, a property with its own dock.