OCEAN CITY – A retired U.S. Navy destroyer moved closer to finding a home as an artificial reef off the coast of the resort this week when Gov. Martin O’Malley officially endorsed the plan.
O’Malley on Monday joined New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner in support of the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) effort to obtain the retired Navy Spruance-class destroyer “Arthur W. Radford,” a 564-foot vessel which has been stored at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard while awaiting its fate.
The vessel is currently in the process of being stripped and cleaned in order to make it environmentally viable as a future artificial reef site likely somewhere in the mid-Atlantic region and the three states are partnering on a plan to sink it in an area about 26 miles off the coast of Ocean City. If the Navy grants the use of the “Radford” to the three-state partnership, it will be placed on a permitted artificial reef site known as DelJerseyLand about 30 nautical miles from the Ocean City Inlet, 28 nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet in Delaware and 32 nautical miles from Cape May, N.J.
The huge new reef site would be located in an area accessible to each state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries. Should the plan come to fruition, the ex-destroyer would become the largest former warship sunk as part of an artificial reef site on the East Coast. The 910-foot former aircraft carrier Oriskany was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico as part of an artificial reef site there two years ago.
“Fishing in Maryland is not only a favorite pastime of many of our residents and visitors, but it also helps drive our local economies and reconnect people with nature,” he said. “I am honored to support the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative’s multi-state efforts to enhance habitat for marine life off the Delmarva Peninsula.”
While O’Malley lent his official support to the three-state effort to obtain the “Radford,” he did not commit any state funds. It now appears finding a funding source is the only real stumbling block left in the process and the money will likely have to come from private sector donations and fundraising. However, the project could come in at a fairly low price considering the economic and environmental upside. Salvage companies are bidding on scrap metal and other salvageable elements of the old vessel, and depending on how that goes, the price of the Radford could come in as low as $600,000, representing a commitment of about $200,000 for each state.
Locally, the fundraising efforts will be coordinated by the Ocean City Reef Foundation, whose members are already in the midst of raising money for as many as 600 retired New York City subway cars, the first batch of which should arrive off the coast of Ocean City next month. If and when completed, the subway car project will almost triple the size of the existing artificial reef system. Adding the 563-foot Radford just 26 miles off the coast would match that effort and then some in one fell swoop.
Ocean City Reef Foundation spokesman Captain Monty Hawkins said this week supporters of the “Radford” project in three states would coordinate their funding efforts.
“The ‘Radford’ project is the first three-state cooperative reefing effort and will be the East Coast’s largest single artificial reef,” he said. “I surely hope we can find the funding in the private sector to help carry Maryland’s share of the cost.”
Hawkins said he hoped the project could be sign of things to come in terms of states cooperating on reef projects.
“I hope this is the first of many future interstate reef efforts as the projects help bolster the coast’s badly degraded natural coral reef habitat,” he said. “Combined with proper fisheries management, reef building can and will restore some fisheries to populations not seen since World War II.”
DNR Fisheries Manager Martin Gary said this week the “Radford” project represents an opportunity to greatly enhance fishing and other activities while creating habitat.
“Anglers and divers from all three states would be able to access the site and the aquatic resources that will flourish there,” he said.
The “DelJerseyLand” site would be located not far from an existing artificial reef site made up of a couple of vessels torpedoed during World War II. The “Moonstone” was a private vessel pressed into service during the war and was sunk by a German U-boat in the area. The Swedish vessel “Hvoslef” also went down in the area during WWII. Combined, the two sunken ships have already created a wonderful artificial reef system in the area designated for DelJerseyLand and adding the 563-foot Radford would only enhance that.
The USS Radford was launched in 1975 and commissioned in 1977. Twenty-eight years later, the “Radford” was decommissioned and now sits in a Philadelphia shipyard awaiting its final fate.
“It’s like an irrevocable trust,” said Hawkins. “We can spend the interest, but we can never touch the principal. Once that vessel is down there, it will create habitat and attract fish for years to come.”