First Batch of Subway Cars Deployed Off Resort Coast

OCEAN CITY- The first batch of retired New York City “Red Bird” subway cars found a permanent home off the coast of Ocean City last Friday when 44 of cars were carefully dropped from a barge over a permitted site near the famous “Jackspot” about 19 miles offshore, creating the new Susan J. Power Reef in the name of its donor.

Around 10 a.m. last Friday, a barge carrying 44 of the retired subway cars from New York City reached the Jackspot where it met with local and state artificial reef officials who directed the deployment. The project was directed by the Maryland Artificial Reef Foundation (MARI) along with its partners the Ocean City Reef Foundation, the town of Ocean City, Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and New York City Transit.

The Ocean City Reef Foundation started raising funds for the project last November when it learned as many as 600 of the retired subway cars would become available for artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. The fundraising efforts got a major jumpstart with a $50,000 private donation from fishing enthusiasts Jack and Susan Power, whose generous gift was used to fund the first barge containing 44 of the cars.

“By supporting the Ocean City Reef Foundation’s New York City Transit Authority project, we knew we could directly and immediately make a positive difference in our coastal resources and fishing opportunities,” said Jack Power at the subway car deployment last week. “Our hope in kicking off this effort is that other individuals, organizations and businesses support this tremendous initiative. Everyone will benefit for decades to come.”

The Susan J. Power Reef site, the first of five possible sites off the coast of the resort, is about 19 miles southeast of Ocean City and represents MARI’s first coastal project. MARI recently celebrated its first anniversary raising nearly $1.4 million to support similar reef projects around the state with most of its efforts concentrated around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Eventually, as many as 600 of the subway cars will be deposited off the coast, creating new reefs on permitted locations and filling in existing reefs in need of new material. For over a decade, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has steadily restored the reef system off the coast, depositing tons of materials including retired vessels, concrete, steel, cables and other materials suitable for reef building, but the deployment of the 44 cars at the Jackspot last Friday represents the largest effort thus far, according to president Greg Hall.

“For the last 11 years, we have been placing artificial reef structures aimed at improving the marine environment, but the new reef at the Jackspot is, by far, the biggest project we have ever undertaken,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing to go back to reef sites and see the area covered in mussels and swarming with marine life, even as soon as six months after initial placement.”

Local charter captain and member of the Maryland Artificial Reef Advisory Committee Monte Hawkins, who knows as much about the growing reef system off the coast as anybody, said last week’s deployment of the subway cars will quickly restore habitat and enhance the fisheries.

“Using rail cars to create new reefs helps accelerate the rebuilding of many important species along Maryland’s coast,” he said. “The only thing ‘artificial’ is the substrate, all the life is natural.”

Hawkins said he hopes the accelerated reef building effort will restore the fisheries off the coast of Ocean City to their former glory.

“Local anglers and divers often recall a time when the ocean seemed so full of life that its diminishment seemed impossible,” he said. “I think artificial reef construction is a key component to restoring that past. This project is a huge step toward rebuilding many of our region’s fisheries.”

State and local elected officials have fully endorsed the effort to obtain as many of the retired subway cars as possible, from an environmental standpoint as well as an economic one. For example, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recognized the importance of a thriving fishery off Maryland’s coast for the local and state economy.

“In Maryland, fishing is not only a favorite pastime, but also a cultural tradition and a source of economic stimulus for local communities,” he said. “The commitment and accomplishments of the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative partners and the Ocean City Reef Foundation to rebuild marine habitat has been critical to renew our valuable fishing heritage.”

Of course, fishing is big business for Ocean City and an enhanced fishery created by artificial reef construction will only contribute to that- a point not lost on Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan.

“We are excited about this addition to the artificial reefs,” he said. “Fishing is a part of Ocean City’s heritage. These reefs provide quality habitat for marine life off our coast, which benefits not only the environment but also local businesses, visitors and city residents.”

The public will have the opportunity to see first-hand the progress of the new reef site through a documentary and promotional video created by world-renowned underwater filmmaker Nick Caloyianis, who is expected to dive at the Susan J. Power Reef soon after the cars have been placed to provide initial documentation for progression of reef growth.