Subway Car Concerns Answered
by Tom Siciliano
(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association July 2002 Newsletter)
The New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on April 23 in Somers Point on the potential use of subway cars for artificial reefs. About 100 people interested in the use of the subway cars attended the meeting. Cindy Zipf, from Clean Ocean Action, articulated the concerns that she had. Those present had some of the same questions but approached the hearing with an open mind. The testimony of the experts assembled successfully answered every one of the concerns for those who were listening.
What to me was always a win – win situation became a no brainer after listening to the testimony of people like William Muir who is an oceanographer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Doctor Muir helped to write the rules which are used to insure that material such as old ships, and military vehicles are cleaned up properly before they are placed in the marine environment. Doctor Muir is also a diver so has first-hand knowledge of the status of the subway cars which were placed on the Sea Girt reef over 10 years ago. Those cars prove that the subway cars will last longer than expected. Doctor Muir estimates they will still be identifiable on the sea floor for as long as 25 years. This far exceeds the first concern which was that the subway cars would not last long enough.
Another concern was the asbestos in the cars. We all know that friable asbestos is a health problem where the particles are air borne and inhaled. Asbestos is a naturally
occurring material which is found in our drinking water at what would seem to be surprisingly high levels. These levels have never shown to be a problem for people drinking the water or fish swimming in that environment. Nevertheless, it is a concern that needed to be addressed. And both Doctor Muir and Jeff Tinsman who is the artificial reef coordinator for Delaware addressed it. Jeff had to insure that the cars would not be a problem before he could approve of their use in Delaware. He has reviewed all the available data and discussed the issue with the Division of Air and Waste Management. They concluded that the asbestos in the cars, which is in the floor tiles, and in an epoxy matrix, would break down very slowly and never reach fiber concentrations, which would be a concern. Jeff also reviewed the issue with EPA, Region 4, and they reached the same conclusion. In other words, Jeff consulted the experts in the field and none of them had any reservations about using the cars as reef material.
Congratulations are in order for Assemblyman Bob Smith (D-4) who ran the meeting and Assemblymen Jeff Van Drew (D-1) and George Geist (R-4) who asked probing questions of those testifying to clarify the issues and make sure that all concerns were addressed fully and satisfactorily. At the end they were asked it there was a vote would they support the use of subway cars and all three of them answered yes!
The use of the subway cars will be a win – win for all involved. It will be a win for fishermen as new growth of blue mussels will start to attach themselves to the cars in a matter of weeks and provide habitat for all sorts of marine organisms and hiding places for small fishes which in turn will attract larger fish.
It will be a win for the NY Transit Authority and their subway riders as the use of the cars as reef material will provide a cost savings over other means and allow the fares to remain more stable a little longer.
It is a win for the New Jersey Reef Program. They will be able to expand the reef system at no cost. They will have additional sites to study the development and productivity of the subway cars while providing more fishing and diving opportunities for the people of New Jersey.
It is a win for the environment. The use of the subway cars as reef material is a better and safer method of recycling than land-based methods. The overall impact on the environment is far less in the ocean than on land and there are no adverse effects on the underwater environment.
It is an even bigger win for the state budget. Not only is the cost to the state zero but also the donation of the cars qualifies as matching funds for Wallop Breaux funds so the state will, in fact, make money on the use of the cars. How great is that in a time of a tight budget and concerns about cutting expenses and programs!
In summary, after objectively evaluating the pros and cons of using subway cars as reef material there is only one logical conclusion that can be reached. The subway cars are suitable and are a golden opportunity which should not be passed up. We must not allow the unsubstantiated fears of a few from keeping us from moving forward as quickly as possible. The hearing concentrated on the technical merits of the issue and not the emotionalism and fears of a few.
Please take the time to write Governor McGreevey and ask him not to wait any longer. Ask him to make the decision now to use the subway cars before they head south to Delaware!
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