Projects converge: 219 sugar maples to be used in Flight 93 museum on USS Somerset

By Vicki Rock Daily American

Wood from some of the sugar maple trees cut down for construction of the new four-lane segment of Route 219 from Meyersdale to Somerset will go to another project: the USS Somerset.

Somerset County Commissioner John Vatavuk has been working on the ship project since 2008.

Shortly after he took office, Vatavuk worked to have steel from a dragline at the Flight 93 crash site incorporated in the bow of the ship. Flight 93 was hijacked and crashed in Stonycreek Township field.

Someone in the Navy then had an idea that wood from the county could be used on the USS Somerset. Special permission was needed from the Navy secretary because wood generally isn’t used on ships because of a fire hazard, Vatavuk said. The first thought was to use wood for wainscoting. It was decided to use it for flooring. The Navy said because of budget cuts there was no additional money to add wood.

Vatavuk asked John Frick Jr., Sen. Pat Toomey’s Johnstown office manager, if any grants were available to add wood to the ship. Frick said that there was probably no way to get the grant money in time for the ship’s construction.

“I had almost given up when the Navy said there wasn’t enough money,” Vatavuk said. “I thought we’d have to have fundraisers. Then John Frick came through.”

Frick, a woodworker, offered to make calls to his contacts in hopes of appealing to their sense of patriotism and community pride. It took cooperation from both a state agency and several businesses to make it happen.

Vatavuk called Tom Prestash, district executive for the state Department of Transportation District 9, to ask if PennDOT could donate the trees. PennDOT agreed. Prestash declined to comment for this article, saying all the credit goes to Vatavuk and Frick. Frick also called a friend of his, Bernard Lambie of Dunbar, who is friends with Dale Eutsey of Eutsey Lumber of Scottdale.

“Dale Eutsey immediately jumped on board,” Frick said. “He offered to pick the logs up with his logging truck and transport the logs to his sawmill, cut the logs into boards and then transport the boards to Holt & Bugbee.

Eric D’Annolfo, plant manager of Holt & Bugbee, said the wood is going to be taken to the plant in Mount Braddock where it will be dried and turned into flooring.

“We’re just happy to help out,” D’Annolfo said in a telephone interview.

Eutsey Lumber of Scottdale did not return a telephone message for comment.

Rex McQuaide, vice president and corporate counsel for McQuaide trucking of Johnstown, has offered to coordinate the transport of the milled lumber to the ship site in Louisiana.

“We pledged our commitment to this worthwhile cause,” McQuaide said in a telephone interview. “Our company has been in the trucking and warehousing industry since 1936. Our roots are in the local area and we have a warehouse in Somerset County. We felt this is a worthwhile community effort and we want to be a part of it. This brings attention to Somerset County and we are pleased to be a part of it.”

Vatavuk said he thinks that it is fitting that sugar maple from the next section of Route 219 — the highway named the Flight 93 Memorial Highway — will be used on the USS Somerset — the ship named after Somerset County because Flight 93 crashed here. He added that the business owners donated time and expertise at no cost to taxpayers.

“It was divine intervention, all the stars lined up,” he said. “Think of it: We’ve been trying to get Route 219 built for over 40 years. For them to be cutting trees for it just when we needed wood for the ship — it had to be divine intervention.”

The wood is to be used for flooring in the Flight 93 museum on the ship. Vatavuk has been asked to come up with ideas of other things to go in the museum. Photographs of all 40 passengers and crew of Flight 93 will be in the museum.

The date and location of the ship’s commissioning have not been announced. Capt. Tom Dearborn is the new commander of the USS Somerset. He replaces Cmdr. Cole Hayes, who was reassigned. Vatavuk met Dearborn at the commissioning of the USS Arlington, a sister ship.

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