ORISKANY BECOMES OFF-SHORE REEF

By Lynette Wilson, Pensacola News Journal.com 2-16-06

The 888-foot aircraft carrier Oriskany is going down, and this time there appears to be no barriers in the way. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced its approval to allow Florida and the Navy to scuttle the ship about 23 miles off the Pensacola coast.

Telephones in Pensacola dive shops began ringing the minute divers picked up on the news that the world's largest artificial reef project finally is moving ahead.

“The Oriskany will become the Mount Everest of diving,” said diver Bryan Clark, 43, of Pensacola. “There is nothing remotely like it in the world. We are going to be the center of the diving universe for some time to come.”

Projected sink dates have slipped by since September 2004, while the EPA evaluated any potential danger from the ship’s 700 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) primarily in its electrical wiring. Studies have shown PCBs cause cancer, but the Oriskany study resulted in the decision that the wiring will not pose an unreasonable risk to human or marine life.

In early Spring a ship will tow the Oriskany to Pensacola from Beaumont, Texas, where it rode out the 2005 hurricane season. Officials will scuttle it before the 2006 hurricane season begins in June, said Pat Dolan, deputy director of communications for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

Retired Vice Adm. Jack Fetterman, who has pushed to have the Oriskany sunk here, described his mood Wednesday as euphoric. “I just think it is a tremendous event for Pensacola,” he said.

A 2004 Florida State University study estimated Escambia County will see $92 million a year in economic benefits from an artificial reef.

Dolan said the total cost to sink the Oriskany, including environmental remediation and preparation, towing, risk studies and port fees is estimated at $19 million.