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Ristori: Subway-Car Dumping is Held Up By a Few

Sunday Feb 16, 2003

by Al Ristori, Star Ledger Staff

(from Jersey Coast Anglers Association March 2003 Newsletter)

New York City's Transit Authority still has 250 of the original 650 subway cars reserved for New Jersey on hand and waiting for a date to place them on our artificial reefs at no cost to the state, but the project is being obstructed by a couple of organizations that insist on imposing crippling restrictions to the reef program in return for allowing the subway cars to be sunk.

New Jersey anglers watched in frustration during August, 2001 as barges loaded with 400 subway cars originally intended for our state's artificial reef system passed by before being sunk on a Delaware reef at no cost to that state, which also picked up federal matching funds in the process. The sinking of another 100 on a South Carolina reef was televised nationally on the nightly news, and still others have gone to Georgia and Virginia.

New Jersey missed out on this bonanza due to objections from Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action and Derry Bennett of the American Littoral Society, who initially claimed the reefs were becoming an underwater junkyard and then, when that ploy didn't work, cited asbestos content in the matrix of the cars. Despite support for the project from the Environmental Protection Agency, which declared the asbestos content is harmless underwater, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Corps of Engineers and every other federal agency involved, plus a lack of objection from any other environmental organizations, they managed to convince then acting governor Donald DeFrancesco to reject the cars, with the result that 250 were permanently lost to our reefs.

The McGreevey Administration has been looking into salvaging something from the Transit Authority offer and was ready to hold a press conference a couple of weeks ago before recreational fishing leaders found that Zipf and Bennett had imposed crippling restrictions on the entire reef program. In order to clear the remaining 250 cars available, recreational leaders would have to accept an eight-year moratorium on accepting more subway cars. Furthermore, a 30-year durability standard (over twice the national standard) would be imposed and a monitoring program created.

The last requirement is particularly interesting in view of the fact that the DEP doesn't have the funds to even provide the required monitoring of fishery management plans, which could lead to closures of those fisheries, and is also taking a further reduction in the new budget, yet is ready to begin a "make-work" underwater monitoring project that will prove nothing in eight years simply to satisfy a couple of people who seem to have an inordinate degree of control.

Tom Fote of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association (JCAA) was handed those restrictions as the price to be paid for accepting the subway cars. Though he has no problem with monitoring for whatever good it might do, Fote would not accept a moratorium that would prevent the reefs from being enriched, even long after new administrators more willing to improve fishing opportunities for the state's nearly one million anglers may be in charge. Furthermore, he expressed his extreme displeasure at the sudden withdrawal of the state's original draft proposal for artificial reefs and changes made behind closed doors to satisfy two groups.

Fote's main point in refusing to cave in is that both the subway cars and the rules for artificial reefs should be part of the public process rather than a back-door effort to please a few influential people. Assemblyman Robert Smith, chairman of the Environmental Committee, held a hearing on the subway cars last winter in Ocean City, when 400 cars were still available, at which time all the facts were laid on the table and everyone approved of the project except Zipf.

One state official said the biggest problem with this project is that egos must be soothed. That's always a good idea, and recreational leaders would be happy to concede that Zipf and Bennett have won. They've succeeded in preventing 400 subway cars from being sunk on the reefs and are entitled to brag about their accomplishment when seeking support from foundations. Eliminating far more than half the project should constitute more than an adequate compromise, and there's no need to destroy the reef program with further compromise.

The only solution appears to be the Governor's intervention to prevent another embarrassment to the state as its anglers and divers watch other states enjoy an incredible no- cost addition to their artificial reefs while our politicians complain about a lack of funds.

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