Delaware readies former Navy destroyer to create reef off East Coast

    The USS Arthur Radford will soon be pulled to the ocean floor. It took three state governments to take the ship down.

    The Navy destroyer was commissioned in 1977, decommissioned in 2003, and next week is expected to become the largest artificial reef off the East Coast. The 563-foot ship will become a home for aquatic life and a playground for scuba divers.

    Stripping the ship for scrap metals, detoxifying it, and sinking it outside the mouth of the Delaware Bay will cost $945,000; the tab will be divided among the federal government, Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware. The Arthur Radford’s final resting place is equidistant from all three states.

    The ship will give barnacles, mussels, coral, black sea bass, and tautog a place to gather on the otherwise featureless ocean floor. It is expected to be a destination for thousands of recreational fishing trips a year.

    Delaware Gov. Jack Markell says it was a challenge to bring multiple layers of government–federal as well as three states–into agreement.

    “Getting the EPA to sign off, getting the Coast Guard–so many agencies who have an interest and responsibility,” said Markell. “The fact that we were able to get it done-in terms of state agencies and federal agencies–speaks to the power of the idea and the commitment we all had to make it happen.”

    About 1,000 pounds of scrap metal has been pulled off the destroyer. It will be sunk by opening holes in hull and allowing it to flood.

    The environmental advocacy group Basel Action Network challenges the wisdom of artificial reefs. Although the EPA has approved the sinking, a spokesman for BAN said it’s not known how many toxins remain on the ship as it sinks 130 feet below water, nor is it known what long-term effects artificial reefs have on the natural ecosystem.

    He also noted that a domestic recycling company offered to scrap the vessel for $1, which would have saved the federal and state governments nearly $1 million.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.