Plans to sink the USS Radford off Md. coast move ahead

Navy calls decision to scrap other warships unrelated

April 12, 2011|By Frank D. Roylance, The Baltimore Sun

Plans to sink the former destroyer USS Arthur W. Radford off the Maryland coast this spring to serve as a fish reef will apparently not be affected by the Navy's decision to recycle, rather than sink, four other retired warships.

Environmental officials in Delaware said they still plan to sink the 563-foot former Navy destroyer in about 135 feet of water, 30 miles off the coast. Maryland and New Jersey are partners in the project. It would be the longest vessel ever converted for use as an offshore reef on the East Coast.

"The apparent recent decision by the Navy to scrap the [aircraft carrier] USS Forrestal does not affect the preparation of the USS Arthur W. Radford," said Jeff Tinsman, artificial reef coordinator for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Title to the ship transferred to Delaware last June, he said. "We are currently working closely with EPA and Navy to complete the cleanup and federal approval process. A 2011 sinking is anticipated." He could not give a more specific time frame.

Tinsman said most retired naval vessels are scrapped rather than "reefed."

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Naval Sea Systems Command, said the decision to scrap the Forrestal and three other carriers was an economic one. "The high scrap commodity prices right now have made dismantling more economical to the Navy than reefing," he said.

The Radford's scuttling had been scheduled for last fall. But the ship remains at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where it was being stripped of its superstructure, wiring, asbestos and anything that might be a hazard to the environment or to recreational divers. The preparation, towing and sinking was originally projected to cost $800,000.

A Seattle-based environmental group called the Basel Action Network said late last week that it would continue to work to stop the Radford's sinking, arguing that turning naval vessels into fish reefs instead of recycling them was a waste of taxpayers' money.

The group also claimed that its report in December, "Jobs and Dollars Overboard," played a role in the Navy's decision to recycle the carriers Forrestal, Saratoga, Independence and Constellation.

In addition to recovering valuable metals, such as steel, aluminum and copper, recycling provides jobs and allows for the "full remediation" of PCBs, asbestos and other toxic material in the ships, according to Colby Self, director of BAN's Green Ship Recycling Campaign.

"I like to think they listened to some of the information we put out there," he said. "I think it definitely had some influence."

Johnson, however, said the Navy's decision to recycle the Forrestal and the other carriers was published in October, before the BAM report came out.

Self said his organization would continue to "ask a lot of questions" about the Radford "to really get down to the bottom of what toxins are existing on the vessel and to what extent they're going to remediate those toxins."

Maryland weather blog: Frank Roylance on meteorology

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