That ‘sinking feeling' spreads




By STEVE SANOSKI Keys Sunday reporter
Posted-Wednesday, December 13, 2006 10:12 AM EST








Monroe mayor eyes aircraft carrier as the next reef

The controversial Vandenberg artificial reef project has apparently garnered support in some very high places, according to Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson.

And, the next target being eyed just might turn out to be a surplus aircraft carrier for waters off Marathon.

At Tuesday's meeting of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC) in Key West, McPherson shared a recent call from Gov. Jeb Bush offering personal support of the Vandenberg project.


Then, McPherson said, the Gov. went on to list his brother - President George W. Bush - as another supporter for sinking the retired naval ship as a dive site and artificial reef.

Monroe County Mayor Mario Di Gennaro, attending his first TDC meeting as mayor, chimed in with more news on the artificial reef front - alerting the TDC about plans to sink an aircraft carrier.

Di Gennaro said he and Vandenberg Project founder Joe Weatherby have already begun research on another artificial reef they'd like to see created in the Keys.



“We are in the process of researching the sinking of an aircraft carrier off Marathon,” Di Gennaro said. “It looks like it would be a lower cost project than the Vandenberg.”

The Vandenberg Project has a price tag of $5.7 million. Project organizers recently met a deadline to prevent losing a federal grant and keep the USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg from being reduced to a scrap pile.

The majority of project funding consists of a $2 million pledge from the Monroe County Commission, as well as a $1.3 million promise from the Key West City Commission. The U.S. Maritime Administration will kick in $1.25 million, while the TDC commits another $1 million.



Patti Stanley, TDC District Advisory Committee 4 Chair, raised lingering concerns about where the TDC's funding commitment to the Vandenberg Project will come from.

“We're facing a major budget crunch, and we're already concerned about funding over the next few years,” Stanley said. “We want to help, but it's kind of a scary picture when you look at the big numbers the Vandenberg Project requires and the little numbers we're dealing with in our budgets.”

The Key West City Commission meets in special session today to approve an agreement with the county to hand over the county's $2 million commitment to Artificial Reefs of the Keys. The Monroe County Commission approved the interlocal agreement between the city and county last Friday.



Under terms of the agreement, the county will not actually hand over its money until the 520-foot ship is on the bottom of the ocean. The special City Commission meeting convenes at 5:30 p.m. tonight at Old City Hall.