Route 90 Surface May Find Home In Chesapeake Bay

OCEAN CITY – The bad news is, it now appears the 85-foot section of concrete and steel contractors are in the process of removing from the Route 90 bridge will not find a home in the waters around the resort area as part of a growing artificial reef system, but the good news is, the huge slabs could be used for the same purpose in another area of the state, possibly the Chesapeake Bay.

When the word went out earlier this month the state would have to remove a large section of the Route 90 Bridge over the Assawoman Bay because of corrosion and other damage, local and state artificial reef officials and area conservation groups began probing the possibility the deploying the tons of concrete and steel on one of the area’s artificial reef systems, either in the coastal bays somewhere or on a permitted site in the ocean. There were obvious timing issues to overcome with the window for completing the project set at two months, as well as some permit issues to deal with, but a glut of emails and phone calls exchanged between the various public and private entities involved suggested real progress was being made on the attempt to deploy the material on the artificial reef system.

In the end, however, it appears the sheer size and weight of the replaced section, coming off the bridge at its highest point over the channel in the Assawoman Bay, and not any timing or permit problems, has signaled the downfall of the proposal. Ironically, the size of the removed portion, which made it so attractive to state and local artificial reef officials at first, could be the reason it won’t be deployed at least locally.

“It looks like it’s a no-go in terms of deploying the removed section of concrete and steel in the ocean off the coast of Ocean City,” Maryland Artificial Reef Coordinator Erik Zlokovitz on Wednesday. “The contractor is a bay-oriented company with not much experience in ocean deployments of artificial reef materials.”

Zlokovitz said the huge 50-foot crane mounted on a barge that arrived in the resort area last week and inched its way through the Route 50 Bridge draw span was being utilized to remove the damaged sections in five large pieces.

“They’re using that crane to stack up the largest pieces on their own barge, which will eventually be transported to Baltimore,” he said. “Those pieces are just too large and cumbersome to deploy in the ocean.”

Instead, the five large sections removed from Route 90 will be stored on a barge until such time as they can be safely transported to Baltimore where they will await their fate. Zlokovitz said the contractor, McClean Contracting, one of two private companies working on the bridge project, has agreed to hold the sections in Baltimore until it can be determined if they can be used somewhere else in the state’s artificial reef system.

“The good news is, as long as they can find storage for the material, and they’ve assured me they can, it appears these damaged sections of bridge could be deployed somewhere else as part of an artificial reef system, quite possibly somewhere in the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “There will still be the same issues to deal with. The company is Coast Guard-certified to transport the material by barge out of the Ocean City Inlet and up to Baltimore, but it’s uncertain if they will be able to deploy this stuff somewhere in the bay.”

Zlokovitz said the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) and its private sector partners would continue to push for using the discarded bridge material on an artificial reef system in state waters.

“This certainly isn’t the end of it,” he said. “It would have been nice to utilize it in the waters in and around Ocean City and there is a certain logic to doing that given the proximity of the project to the reef sites, but as long as they are willing to store it, we’ll keep pushing for it to end up on a reef site.”