By ELIZABETH M. PIAZZA
OCEAN CITY (Nov. 25, 2008)—The last stop for more than 40 New York City subway cars will be the Bass Grounds Reef - the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 10-miles off the coast of Ocean City.
The Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, the Ocean City Reef Foundation, New York City Transit Authority and the town of Ocean City have partnered to submerge retired subway cars for the creation of an artificial reef that will provide a habitat for marine organisms. Assuming cooperative weather, the cars should sink off the coast early Wednesday morning.
Last May, more than 40 cars were submerged at the Jackspot Reef, 20 miles off the Ocean City coast.
"We know it's going to be a success because it's been a success on other places on the East Coast," said Marta Beman, administrator for the Ocean City Reef Foundation. From 2001 to 2003, 1,269 Redbird subway cars were submerged along the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
The Ocean City Reef Foundation, a non-profit organization, constructs artificial reefs from man-made materials. The foundation places approximately 12 artificial reefs each year, funded by private donations.
"They are a hot commodity with the fishermen," Beman said. The growing fish populations offer more opportunity for charter fishing boats.
Prior to placement, doors, windows, light fixtures, bulbs and anything that could float are removed from the cars. Any part that has grease or oil is either removed or cleaned. The entire process takes about two days.
New York City Transit has been pleased with the outcome, said Michael Zacchea, assistant chief operations officer of asset recovery for the New York City Transit Authority. It's a double-header because it is cheaper for the transit authority to do this and it is positive for the environment, he said.
At 60 feet long, 10 feet wide and 9 feet in height, the cars offer hiding places for fish and surface area for the growth of marine organisms, such as mussels, anemones and corals. These organisms provide food and habitat for a variety of fish and shellfish.
Each car is expected to last for 50 to 60 years.
Capt. Monty Hawkins, a board member of the Ocean City Reef Foundation and captain of the Morning Star, a charter fishing boat, has seen a resurgence of fish like sea bass and tautog after the Jackspot Reef was created.
"It's unbelievable how much better the fishing can be with artificial reefs," Hawkins said.
The idea for the program originated in 2000 when the transit authority was retiring a significant portion of its fleet - 1,300 at once. Zacchea spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers, who suggested that they would be useful as artificial reefs.
Initially concerned that the cars contained asbestos, Ocean City did not participate in the 2001 program.
"Once it's underwater, it [asbestos] doesn't present any threat to the environment or marine habitat," Zacchea said.
Each shipment of cars cost $26,000 - $600 per car. The Ocean City Reef Foundation is raising money for two more subway reefs at Great Eastern Reef and Isle of Wight.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.