Friday, November 21–More Subway Cars To Find Home Off OC Coast

OCEAN CITY – A second batch of retired New York City “Red Bird” subway cars are expected to find a permanent home off the coast of Ocean City this weekend, possibly as soon as tomorrow, when 46 of the cars will be dropped at one of two possible locations on the growing artificial reef system.

Sometime in the next few days, possibly as soon as tomorrow, a barge carrying 46 of the retired subway cars is expected to rendezvous with local and state artificial reef officials who will direct their deployment. The batch of 46 more cars is the second installment of the retired New York subway cars expected to be deployed off the coast of Ocean City under the direction of the Ocean City Reef Foundation along with its partners the Maryland Artificial Reef Foundation (MARI), the town of Ocean City, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and New York Transit.

The initial plan was to drop the 46 subway cars on either the Bass Grounds or Russell’s Reef sometime this morning, but weather conditions in and around New York City have pushed the target date back at least a day to sometime tomorrow or even early next week. The barge carrying the subway cars out of New York’s harbor did not get clearance to pass under a bridge until prevailing winds backed down, which caused the delay.

According to 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, the intent is to drop the new batch of cars at the Bass Grounds, but the plan might be altered to deploy the cars at Russell’s Reef closer to shore if the northwest winds that have blown steadily in the area this week don’t calm before the barge of cars arrives. If the same winds that are keeping the barge in New York’s harbor die down, the original plan to deploy the cars at the Bass Grounds could be achieved.

In either case, Hawkins said this week the local artificial reef program and its partners could not be more pleased to be next in line to get the cars. Several other mid-Atlantic states are in the rotation to receive the cars as they become available after certain mitigation efforts are complete. Maryland and Ocean City got their first batch of the retired subway cars in May when 44 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.

The Ocean City Reef Foundation started raising funds for the project a year ago 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.

Funding for the second batch of 46 cars expected to arrive off the coast as soon as tomorrow has been fueled largely by private donations. At an estimated cost of around $700 per car, the barge-load of 46 new cars headed to Ocean City cost around $32,000, which was largely provided by private donors. When the project reaches fruition, over 600 retired subway cars could find their way to the bottom of the ocean off the coast of the resort.

“The trick is to have the fundraising out in front of the opportunity to get more cars,” said Hawkins. “There are several states vying for these things, and we want to have our funding in place when our turn in the rotation comes around again.”

According to Hawkins, who routinely fishes his charter head boat over the growing artificial reef system off the coast of the resort, the subway cars deployed at the Susan J. Power site last May are already achieving their desired purpose.

“It’s really been pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s working like crazy and we really couldn’t be happier. Those cars are doing exactly what we thought they would do already.”

For the last decade, the Ocean City Reef Foundation has been steadily expanding the artificial reef system off the coast of the resort with eight sites ranging from as close to shore as one mile to as far as 20 miles. In that span, the foundation has submerged tons of pieces of material, from old boats to retired military equipment to discarded construction material, enhancing habitat for fish and other sea creatures, which, in turn, has improved offshore fishing for recreational anglers and created new opportunities for diving enthusiasts.

However, with the first batch of subway cars sunk off the coast in May and the second batch expected to go down sometime in the next few days, the foundation could double the size of the artificial reef system off the coast already with several more barges expected in the future.

“With that first batch of cars, we were practically able to match our efforts over the last 10 years,” said Hawkins. “When this next batch is deployed, we will have just about doubled our efforts over 10 years in just a few months.”

Some of the subway cars acquired will be used to fill out existing artificial reef sites. Others will be used to create new artificial reefs on sites that are already permitted and are just waiting for material.