Retired Navy Destroyer Slated For Artificial Reef

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OCEAN CITY – The growing artificial reef system off the coast of Ocean City could be getting its largest contribution ever as plans to scuttle a retired U.S. Navy destroyer in an area about 30 miles from the Inlet are now closer than ever to becoming a reality.

Navy officials announced late last month it is transferring ownership of the decommissioned destroyer U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford to the state of Delaware, a crucial next step in the ongoing effort to sink the vessel to create a vast artificial reef site off the mid-Atlantic coast. The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) is partnering with the states of Delaware and New Jersey to acquire the 563-foot Radford, which has been stored at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard while awaiting its fate.

The vessel is in the process of being stripped and cleaned in order to make it environmentally viable as a future artificial reef site and the three states, along with the Navy, are partnering on a plan to sink it in an area just 32 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The huge new reef site would be called DelJerseyLand and would be located in an area easily accessible to each state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries. The site is equidistant from each state’s major Atlantic port at about 32 miles east-northeast of the Ocean City inlet, 28 miles southeast of the Indian River inlet in Delaware and 34 miles southeast of Cape May, N.J.

Should the plan come to fruition, and the transfer of the vessel to the state of Delaware, which will handle the logistics of the project, in late August moves it closer to becoming than ever, 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 off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. in 2006, becoming the largest warship ever sunk expressly for the purpose.

Recently appointed Artificial Reef Coordinator for Maryland Erik Zlokovitz, the first person named to the position in the state since 1996, said this week the transfer of the Radford to Delaware marks a significant milestone in the effort sink it off the Ocean City coast as part of an artificial reef site.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “This is a very exciting project. This is going to create a huge, deep-water reef that will provide a big economic boost to all of the parties involved, but its real value might be an ecological one. It will provide a huge foundation for coral growth, a refuge for smaller fish and, in turn, feeding grounds for larger fish.”

While there is still much work to be done, not the least of which is finding the estimated $800,000 from the four partners including Maryland needed to prepare the vessel, tow it and sink it on the permitted artificial reef site, it now appears the project is on the fast track.

“It’s moving forward,” said Zlokovitz. “I can’t really set a timetable for it. For the next three or four months, we’ll be making a big push for raising funds and if everything falls into place, it could be deployed as early as next year.”

Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey, along with the Navy, are being relied upon to come up with equal shares of the estimated $800,000 needed to complete the massive artificial reef project, making the state’s share around $200,000. For a while, Maryland’s estimated $200,000 share was earmarked in the state budget, but has long since been slashed, likely putting the onus on the private sector to raise the funds.

Long-time Ocean City Reef Foundation member and local charter captain Monty Hawkins said this week the local fishing community is already rallying support for the Radford project. Hawkins has already donated $1,000 from the proceeds of his daily 50/50 raffles held on his boat for local artificial reef projects.

“Maryland is cutting more and more everyday and the budget has been slashed,” said Hawkins. “Frankly, I’m surprised the Radford project stayed on the books as long as it did, but it finally got the ax. This is going to take a real grassroots effort, at least from the Maryland side.”

Ocean City Reef Foundation President Greg Hall agreed the fundraising would likely fall on the backs of the private sector.

“Maryland is slashing budgets and cutting jobs, so it could be hard to justify spending $200,000 for an artificial reef,” said Hall. “We’ll do our part to come up with the money for Maryland’s share, but it could take quite an effort.”

Zlokovitz said this week MARI and its partner the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) already have a donation mechanism in place for those wishing to contribute to the Radford project or any of the state’s artificial reef projects. Similar to the “Buy a Ton” program, every dollar donated goes directly to the project with no set-asides for administrative costs.

The retired Radford would be sunk in about 130 feet of water and would create a vertical profile from the sea floor of about 70 feet, along with its 560-foot-plus length. It was launched in 1975 and commissioned in 1977. Twenty-eight years later it was decommissioned and now sits in a Philadelphia shipyard awaiting its fate. The ship was made available to all Gulf and Atlantic states in May 2008, but the Navy received only the application from the tri-state group including Maryland.

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