Thursday, April 23, 2009

Key West's Ship Finally Comes In

It took more than $8 million and 10 years, but the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg arrived in Key West at 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, greeted at its temporary dockage, the Truman Waterfront, by a crowd of several hundred people. Plans are for the 523-foot decommissioned military vessel to be intentionally sunk in late May or early June as an artificial reef six miles south of the city. It's expected to provide a huge boon to the dive and snorkel industry. "Not only will it be the second largest ship in the world ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef, but it is of huge historical significance," Mayor Morgan McPherson says. The largest ship intentionally scuttled as an artificial reef is the 888-foot USS Oriskany, which took the plunge in 2006 off Pensacola. The 510-foot Spiegel Grove was sunk off Key Largo in 2002 at a cost of $1.4 million. While the Vandenberg has reached its final destination after spending time in the Navy's mothball fleet on the James River and after being cleaned of contaminants at a Norfolk, Va., shipyard, there are still lots of nuts and bolts left in the operation. "I'm exhausted," said Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge, the city's point man on the project. "It doesn't end here, it just begins here. Everybody acts like it's done."
The 'Vandenberg' is towed into Key West
Final preparations include cutting 47 holes into the hull, final asbestos inspections, a once-over from federal regulators, and rigging for the explosives that will eventually send her to the bottom. The ship passed Marathon on Monday and arrived off Key West late Tuesday. Wednesday morning, the ship was maneuvered by tug and pilot boats into harbor and docked near the USS Mohawk on the East Quay Wall. The ship will not be open to public tours due to safety concerns, but a good view of the Vandenberg will be available from the East Quay Wall and from aboard the Mohawk. Plans are for the ship to be on the ocean's bottom by June 1, the start of the six-month hurricane season. After preparations are complete, the Vandenberg will be towed out to the scuttling location and anchored in spot. The Coast Guard, with help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will set up a perimeter of 500 yards around the ship. Verge said he heard reports that when the Vandenberg was in transit down the Keys, many boaters were motoring right up next to it and ignoring the steel lines attaching the tugboats to the powerless Vandenberg.

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