KEY WEST, Florida Keys -- Project organizers, overseeing the transformation of a retired U.S. Air Force missile tracking ship into an artificial reef off Key West have set May 15, 2008 as the scheduled sink date.
"This is a major event for us, a great opportunity for the health of the reef as well as an economic shot in the arm for the Keys," said Chris Norwood, president of Artificial Reefs of the Keys. "Tens of thousands of people have been waiting to hear this date."
Currently, the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg is in a Norfolk, Va., shipyard with workers removing environmental hazards, prior to its scuttling in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Officials with Reefmakers, the project's facilitator, are planning to coordinate towing of the 522-foot-long vessel to Key West sometime in March for final preparations.
The Vandenberg project should provide additional marine habitat and provide a new attraction for recreational divers, to relieve pressure on natural coral reefs.
"Not only do artificial reefs divert recreational user pressure from natural reefs, they also create a valuable habitat and new breeding grounds for the marine environment", said Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers. "The Vandenberg will provide tools and resources to create sustained educational, social and cultural programs while also generating substantial revenues for the community."
Before it was decommissioned in 1983, the Vandenberg also tracked manned U.S. space missions, beginning with Mercury blastoffs in the early 1960s. The ship "played" a role as a Russian science ship in "Virus," a 1999 motion picture starring Jamie Lee Curtis.
Funding for the project is coming from several local government and private-sector resources including the City of Key West and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.