Friday, May 1, 2009

Keys' reef project nears completion

FWC press release:


Keys' Vandenberg reef project nears completion


The highly anticipated sinking of the world's second-largest ex-military ship to be deployed as an artificial diving and fishing reef is almost here.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues to work with its project partners on final preparations for the ex-U.S.S. Hoyt Vandenberg to be safely sunk in late May at a site about 6 miles south-southeast of Key West in 140 feet of water.

The Vandenberg is 523 feet long and will provide recreational diving, ecotourism and fishing enhancements to the Florida Keys.  The colorful vessel was commissioned in 1943 as a World War II troop transport ship, and later it became a missile range instrument ship in the 1960s, defending against missile attacks and tracking rocket and early space shuttle launches.

The ship is being placed in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary near Key West to help divert fishing pressure and diving pressure away from natural reefs near the ship.  The FWC estimates that the vessel's life span of at least 100 years will contribute stable, long-term habitat for scores of marine fish species and provide exceptional diving and fishing opportunities for Florida residents and visitors from around the world.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projections, the Vandenberg artificial reef will result in an annual increase of about $7.5 million in expenditures in the Monroe County economy, and will create about 195 full- and part-time jobs.

"The FWC has played a major role in providing funding and technical assistance for the Vandenberg project since early 2001, including helping the City of Key West secure permits for the ship and performing numerous inspections of the vessel while it is being readied for its safe deployment," said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. 

The FWC has been the project liaison among the City of Key West (which owns the ship), Reefmakers, Inc. (the prime contractor for the project), the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The FWC has managed nearly $2.5 million in funding for the Vandenberg's preparation, cleanup and monitoring out of total project costs of about $8.5 million.  FWC funding partners include the Governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development; MARAD; City of Key West; Monroe County; and Keys Tourist Development Council.

In addition, the FWC's Division of Law Enforcement is taking the lead in working with the Navy, Coast Guard, Key West police and Monroe County Sheriff's office as well as local fire and rescue officers on offshore security operations regarding the sinking event, which is expected to occur sometime between May 21 and June 1, depending on weather conditions.


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