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Maritime Administration Suisun Reserve Fleet: Recycle or Artificial Reefs?

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  • Pacific Merchant Marine Council, NLUS
    $1.5 million to again study the Suisun Reserve Fleet? Personally I favor move forward now by beaching ships nearby or using a Mare Island dry dock to cut them
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2008
      $1.5 million to again study the Suisun Reserve Fleet? Personally I favor move forward now  by beaching ships nearby or using a Mare Island dry dock to cut them up and recycle the metals and some parts.

      Contra Costa Times - Jul 12 12:14 AM Will examine effect of metal, paints flaking off decaying ships http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_9860199?source=rss

      U.S. agency to study mothball fleet pollution

      By Jessica A. York
      MediaNews staff
      Article Launched: 07/12/2008 12:03:52 AM PDT

      A federal agency this month will begin studying the environmental effects of the decaying ships moored in the Suisun Bay mothball fleet.

      The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took an interest after the Times last year revealed lead-laden paint and other materials were falling off the deteriorating ships into the water.

      NOAA scientists will gather field samples this month and next to test bay sediment and some marine life for heavy metals and other contaminants.

      A flurry of attention from local, state and federal legislators followed revelations about the ships and their toxicity. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer pushed for $1.5 million to fund a study.

      The Suisun Fleet is one of nation's three excess-ship-storage moorings, designed to provide backup in national emergencies. As the former merchant and military ships deteriorate past the point of seaworthiness, federal mandates require their disposal. More than 70 obsolete ships are moored in Suisun Bay, overseen by the U.S. Maritime Administration.

      Environmental groups San Francisco Baykeeper, Arc Ecology and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Maritime Administration in October to hold the agency accountable for any water pollution caused by the ships.

      The lawsuit seeks a court order for an agency-prepared environmental impact report as well as the storage and disposal of any hazardous wastes at an appropriate facility.

      The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is the lead agency working with the Maritime Administration on local compliance as it works to get rid of obsolete vessels. Ship removal has been halted because the Coast Guard requirement for the removal of marine growth from the hulls before towing conflicted with local laws requiring such cleaning be environmentally sensitive.

      The Maritime Administration "has basically stated to us that they feel that since NOAA will be doing the study, that addressed the issue and they are no longer responsible for the sediment," said Bruce Wolfe, executive officer for the water board. "We don't agree with that. We believe the Maritime Administration is still responsible for any of the sediment contaminated by the fleet."


      The Reporter
      Vacaville, California

      In reefs, divers see use for mothball fleet

      By Jessica A. York/Times-Herald, Vallejo
      Article Launched: 07/27/2008 07:19:12 AM PDT

      A fish swims between tanks that fell off a barge in the '40s and landed on top of each other. off Lover's Point in Monterey Bay. (Courtesy photo of Ben Licari, Northern California Oceans Foundation and California Ships to Reefs)
      Dismantling retired and obsolete former war and merchant vessels is not the only solution for the Suisun Bay mothball fleet, according to a group of divers.

      The nonprofit California Ships to Reefs says sinking ships and turning them into artificial reefs is the best way for the federal government to remove the reserve vessels from the fleet. While the group is open to other large ships for sinking, the big prize would be the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, said Executive Director Eleanore Rewerts.

      More than 70 vessels have been deemed in need of removal from the bay's waters after sitting in some cases for more than 50 years.

      Recent studies of the fleet's obsolete vessels have revealed that the decomposing ships are contaminating local

      Yukon sits in San Diego's Underwater Recreation Area. The photo is of the crow's nest - seen when diving down from the center mooring buoy. In addition to attracting anglers and divers, reefs can provide hard bottom habitat for fish. (Courtesy of Randy Herz/ Northern California Oceans Foundation and California Ships to Reefs)
      waters, raising pressure on federal agencies to remove the vessels in the most expedient, cost effective and environmentally sensitive manner.

      Artificial reefing has been designated as just one such removal method.

      Compared to long term storage, domestic scrapping and overseas scrapping, reefing offers cost-effective disposal that can bring in tourism and tax dollars, according to the organization's Web site, www.cs2r.org.

      "We see ourselves as an alternative method to ship recycling and as an opportunity for the historic ports in California to develop a sustainable income other than fishing," said Dean Rewerts, California Ships to Reefs vice president. "Our view is that there's ... more bang for the buck on artificial reefing than recycling."

      In addition to attracting anglers and recreational divers, artificial reefs can provide hard bottom habitat for fish. Sites in San Diego, Orange County, Santa Barbara, Morrow Bay, Monterey Bay, Fort Bragg and near Eureka are all promising sink sites, Rewerts said.

      California Ships to Reefs serves as the statewide umbrella and coordinator for a coalition of "sink groups" along the coast. It is based in Wheatland, just north of Sacramento, and has been working on securing a ship from the federal government for the past two years, Rewerts said.

      The U.S. Maritime Administration, which oversees the Suisun Bay fleet as well as ones in Texas and Virginia, identifies artificial reefing as an alternative to the more common dismantling of ships in its 2008 environmental assessment of the three fleets' disposable ships.

      The highest priority mothballed ships are typically not the best candidates for reefing, generally being neither clean enough nor in good enough condition for commercial use once sunk, according to the assessment. While the Maritime Administration was authorized in 2005 to offer vessel transportation and cleaning assistance for reefing, the federal agency will only provide assistance for high priority vessels.

      Also, an organization such as California Ships to Reefs would not take control of the vessels itself. Rather, the state would agree to take responsibility for a vessel and work with agencies on sinking it, Rewerts said.

      The organization is currently stalled in negotiations between the state Department of Fish and Game and the Maritime Administration due to a lawsuit against the federal agency over the fleet's alleged Suisun Bay pollution. Alternative options include private vessels and the Canadian government's Iroquois class destroyers, which would come pre-cleaned.

      The federal report goes on to note that there is a lack of established environmental standards for the reefing of ships, especially when it comes to PCB chemical contaminants.

      Artificial ship reefing has its proponents, but there may be unidentified environmental impacts, said Saul Bloom, executive director for the Bay Area environmental watchdog group Arc Ecology.

      "Another way of approaching the death of reefs is to put less pollution in the water," Bloom said. "But I don't believe there's enough information yet ... (on the) long term implications of the pollutants."

      Ships would be stripped of harmful chemicals, paints and hardware before they would be sunk at any of the identified coastal locations in the state, said Rewerts.

      "Our first and foremost mandate is that we will do no harm," Rewerts said. "We're primarily a group of divers."

      Rewerts added that reefing the mothball fleets would be intended as an addition to ship recycling, rather than a replacement for it. In fact, local shipyards would be needed to clean the vessels and to cut holes for divers.


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