Plan to Sind Navy Destroyer Off Coast Close To Reality

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 this week with the imminent transfer of the vessel’s title to neighboring Delaware.

Navy officials announced last month it was in the process of 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 awaiting its fate.

Last week, Navy officials and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) issued a joint release stating the transfer of the vessel’s title was nearing completion with just a few details to clear up. Delaware is handling the logistics of the three-state cooperative project and the title transfer is a necessary next step in its fruition.

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 about 30 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The huge new reef site would be called Del-Jersey-Land and would 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. According to DNREC officials, the sinking is expected to take place in late spring or early summer 2010.

Beyond benefiting marine life, the sinking of the Radford at the Del-Jersey-Land site will enhance to coastal economies of the three states through recreational fishing and diving,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “Sharing the Radford as reefing with our sister states is also a boon in moving forward with Delaware’s own internationally acclaimed artificial reef program.”

Should the plan come to fruition, and it now appears closer than ever with the transfer of the title to Delaware last week, the ex-destroyer would 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.

Maryland Artificial Reef Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz said this week the imminent transfer of the Radford’s title to the state of Delaware is a major milestone for the project, but there is still much to be done before any plans are set in motion to sink the vessel on the Del-Jersey-Land site. Zlokovitz said remediation work on the Radford at the Navy yard in Philadelphia is nearly complete with just the wiring and some electrical systems still to be removed, but the project isn’t moving as quickly as many had hoped.

“We’re still very optimistic about this and the title transfer is a big step, but it’s not moving very fast,” he said. “As you can imagine, there is a ton of red tape to get through, especially with the Navy involved. We’re excited and it’s a great project, but I think the spring 2010 goal is a little bit optimistic.”

Of course, a major 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.

Zlokovitz said this week MARI’s fundraising efforts have been fairly successful thus far.

“We’re plodding along pretty well on this,” he said. “Maryland is making a significant push for its portion of the funding and we’re getting there slowly, but surely. We’re utilizing the ‘buy a ton’ program that was so successful in raising funds for the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project a few years back.”

Meanwhile, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Services Director Tom O’Connell praised the project for its potential ecological and environmental benefits.

“Maryland is pleased to be a part of this rare opportunity to provide ecological enhancement off the Delmarva peninsula, which will contribute economic enhancement to the sportfishing community,” he said this week.

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.