OCEAN CITY – Plans to scuttle a retired U.S. Navy destroyer as part of a three-state artificial reef site a mere 30 miles from the Ocean City Inlet are closer than ever to becoming a reality with the official transfer of the vessel’s title last week to the state of Delaware and a planned sinking sometime in August.
Last week, the Navy officially transferred ownership of the decommissioned U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford to Delaware, setting in motion an endgame of sorts for a project proposed well over a year ago. The title transfer to Delaware, which is handling the logistics of the three-state cooperative project, which also includes Maryland and New Jersey, along with the Navy, is the next crucial 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 Delaware and New Jersey to acquire the 563-foot Radford. With the transfer of the title to Delaware completed, the Radford will be towed any day now from its berth in the Navy’s Philadelphia shipyard to a dry dock area in the facility to be cleaned and prepared for sinking.
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 are partnering on a plan to sink it in an area just about 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The huge new reef site, called Del-Jersey-Land in honor of the three partnering states, is located in an area easily accessible to each state’s recreational and commercial fishing industries.
The already-permitted 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. The official transfer of the title of the vessel to Delaware last week sets in motion the final stages of the planned sinking, according to Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Artificial Reef Program Manager Jeff Tinsman.
“Having the title really throttles up our anticipation for the sinking because we’ve said from the beginning the Radford is an exceptionally good reefing candidate,” he said this week. “We are excited about adding this great vessel to a mid-Atlantic reef that’s accessible from ports in three states.”
Following a final inspection and clearance to proceed, likely some time this summer, the Radford will be towed down the Delaware River and out to sea over the permitted reef site, likely sometime in August. It will remain over the permitted reef site for several days while its hull is strategically sliced open to allow for a methodical sinking by flooding its many compartments.
Beyond the obvious benefit to marine life, the sinking of the Radford at the Del-Jersey-Land site will enhance the coastal economies of the three states through recreational fishing and diving activities. According to Maryland Artificial Reef Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz, when the Radford goes down on the site likely in August, it shouldn’t take long for the new addition to begin attracting big game fish targeted by the sportfishing community.
“The bottom line is, this is the biggest reef project in the mid-Atlantic,” he said. “This has real potential for attracting big pelagics like tunas, and maybe cobia too.”
The 536-foot Radford will become the largest warship ever 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.
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.
Of course, one minor impediment still to be resolved is the funding for the project. 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, putting the onus on the private sector to raise the funds.
Zlotovitz said this week the fundraising effort in Maryland is progressing slowly, but a significant amount of private sector donations are still needed to complete the state’s share. To date, state officials have been utilizing the MARI and the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) as the funding mechanism, particularly through the “buy a ton” program, but the groups are reaching out to the private sector to help for the state’s share of the project.