LOWER TOWNSHIP – A Cape May-Lewes Ferry boat that has been for sale for four years likely will be scuttled as a new artificial reef after failing to draw interest on the commercial market.

The MV Twin Capes has been moored at the Delaware River & Bay Authority’s docks in Lower Township since it was gradually taken out of service about two years ago.

The ferryboat is bigger, heavier and more nicely appointed than the other three in the fleet. It has a full restaurant, a food court and two plush bars that were added as part of a $27 million renovation in 1996.

But the bigger boat costs more to operate, DRBA spokesman James Salmon said. It requires a bigger crew (17 people instead of 12) and uses more fuel than the other three ferries with every 17-mile crossing over the Delaware Bay.

The DRBA has a tentative agreement to sell the ferry for $250,000 to Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources for use as an artificial ocean reef.

Delaware is partnering with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which has decades of experience sinking barges, boats and construction material to create offshore habitat for fish.

New Jersey halted the program during a dispute between recreational and commercial fishermen over fishing rights to the state’s 15 reefs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suspended funding for New Jersey reefs because of concerns that commercial fisherman were using them. The program is funded by taxes on fuel and recreational fishing gear.

Under a state agreement, commercial fishermen will have access to portions of two reefs in state waters. Meanwhile, the state plans to build a new reef in Manasquan Inlet and augment other reefs with 10 deployments.

The hard structures provide a base for a food chain and habitat that support bigger fish, DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said.

“Barnacles, mussels, sea stars, crabs. All of these organisms attract smaller fish that attract bigger fish like black sea bass and tautog that recreational fishermen go after,” he said. “These sites become extremely productive.”

New Jersey plans to sink a U.S. Coast Guard boat that served in Iwo Jima and rescued boaters and a downed helicopter crew in a 1991 hurricane off Cape Cod as depicted in “The Perfect Storm.”

Meanwhile, the state plans to conduct archaeological surveys soon for a new reef it plans to build in the Delaware Bay, Hajna said.

DRBA commissioners said the cost of scrapping the Twin Capes could be significantly higher since scrap-metal prices have declined.

The DRBA sold the equally large and well-appointed MV Cape May in 2013 to Northstar Marine Services, based in Dennis Township, for $750,000 for use as construction barge.

That leaves three remaining ferryboats in the fleet: the MV New Jersey, the MV Delaware and the MV Cape Henlopen.

Total ferry traffic (cars and passengers) has been on the rise in the past three years after declines that saw annual crossings drop from 5,676 in 2006 to 4,754 in 2012.

Last year, the ferryboats made 4,700 crossings that carried more than 1 million cars and passengers across the bay. But the service has seen increasing car and foot traffic on the ferry in each of the past three years.

And that trend should continue this year, despite emergency engine repairs that sidelined the MV Delaware for a week this summer, Salmon said.

The ferry on Tuesday reached a milestone with the transport its 45 millionth passengers on Tuesday, the Villecco family from Jackson Township, who are heading to Maryland for a camping vacation.

The ferry service offers a variety of package and bus tours to take passengers to attractions such as the Cape May Lighthouse, the Cape May County Park & Zoo and casinos in Atlantic City.

Staff writer

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