Final funding OK’d for ship

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BY ERIN MAGEE, emagee@keysreporter.com
Posted-Friday, November 17, 2006 12:45 PM EST

 

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A digram shows the relative size of the 520-foot Vandenberg, and an undated Navy photo shows the ship underway, with its multiple communication dishes and antenna masts above the deck.

The Key West City Commission has voted 5-1 in favor of allocating $1.3 million to help create a major dive attraction off the island city.

The commission vote on Wednesday, Nov. 8. will provide the funds to clean and sink the Vandenberg, a decommissioned Navy vessel that will become the largest artificial reef in the Florida Keys.

According to Maritime Administration records, the Vandenberg has been on a donation hold program since 1998.

The 520 foot, 14,300 ton ship was built in 1944 and titled to the U.S. Navy as the General Harry Taylor. In 1962 it was renamed Hoyt S. Vandenberg. But neither of these names are on the ship, Director of Congressional and Public Affairs at the Maritime Administration, Shannon Russell, said. In 1996 the ship was used in Universal Studio’s film “Virus” and it still has a fictitious Russian name on its side.

 

Russell said the Maritime Administration works with non-profit groups such as Artificial Reefs of the Keys to sink ships for artificial reefs. The Maritime Administration is donating the Vandenberg to ARK, along with $1.25 million to help prepare it for sinking.

Joe Weatherby, founder of ARK, said the Key West community is supportive of ARK’s efforts. “The town wants this. The city wants this,” he said. “We need it for our economy and for the environment. The benefits are clear for Key West.”

Weatherby said that when the Oriskany was sunk 23 miles off Pensacola in May 2006, tourism brought in $1 million in the first three days. He believes the Vandenberg will be even more helpful for the Key West economy.

 

Now that his organization has the $5.7 million needed to clean and sink the ship, Weatherby said they are working to repay the city’s contribution.

ARK is auctioning the right to name the reef that will grow on the Vandenberg site on eBay. The minimum bid is $900,000 with a reserve of $1.3 million.

Weatherby said the Vandenberg will be moved from the James River Reserve Fleet in Fort Eustis, Va., to Virginia Beach for cleaning and preparation for sinking. The process will take 12-14 months. The goal is to sink the ship in spring 2008.

 

 

Weatherby said ARK gathered a team of specialists — the Reefmakers — to carry out the sinking. He said they will carefully place the ship 140 feet deep six miles off Key West, with the top of the ship within 40 feet of the surface, making it ideal for both recreational and technical divers.

According to ARK’s Web site, the Vandenberg site will be used by classes at Florida Keys Community College and for research by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Weatherby said that even though he’s had to wait a long time for this outcome, he’s happy and relieved that the Vandenberg is finally going to be sunk.

 

 

More information about the Vandenberg project is available at www.bigshipwrecks.com.