ATLANTIC CITY - The state has terminated a program to place stainless steel subway cars from New York City on artificial reefs off New Jersey's coast.
The program originally was expected to include as many as 600 of the 35,000-pound subway cars, but only about 100 were placed on two of the state's 15 offshore reefs before problems arose.
The program was suspended in February when the first cars, placed on the Atlantic City Reef 8.8 nautical miles off Absecon Inlet, showed unusual damage after only seven months in the water.
Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said one survey of 48 cars at the Atlantic City Reef found only two of them remained upright and intact.
"Out of 48, 46 were destroyed," Yuhas said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had estimated they would serve as good reef habitat for 25 to 30 years.
"All the evidence suggested they would be long-lasting. In fact, the EPA data was these cars should last 25 years," Yuhas said.
Other East Coast states that took the subway cars have reported similar problems.
The state DEP has done more surveys since February and has decided to end the program after cars were only deployed at the Atlantic City Reef and the Cape May Reef, which is about 9.1 nautical miles off Cold Spring Inlet. Cars had been earmarked for three other reefs, including the Shark River, Garden State South and Deepwater reefs, before the termination.
"We did in fact notify the New York Transit Authority that we would no longer be accepting their cars," Yuhas said.
It remains unclear why the cars deteriorated so rapidly, but Yuhas stressed that they pose no threat and still provide "some level of habitat," though not the quality of habitat that meets state standards.
Yuhas also noted that New Jersey discovered the problem before other states because of its strong monitoring program. The first cars were deployed off Atlantic City on April 3, 2008, and the DEP sent scuba divers to check them in November. The monitoring prevented as many as 500 more cars from being deployed.
"I think perhaps the most important lesson here is nothing replaces the value of a strong monitoring program," Yuhas said.
No major problems have been found with a different type of subway car, called Redbirds, which have been used on New Jersey reefs since 2003. The Redbirds are made of steel - but not stainless steel - and are about half the weight of the newer cars.
The stainless steel subway cars were expected to be the major addition this summer to the reefs, which are strongly supported by recreational fishermen and scuba divers. The plan was to deploy 160 cars each to Shark River, Garden State South and Deepwater.
Losing them does not mean the DEP is doing nothing. Plans still call for sinking a surf clam boat, 500,000 cubic yards of rocks and 500 prefabricated reef balls.
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