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The old Tappan Zee bridge will be reborn as a reef

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
May 21, 2018, 9:47:44 AM EDT

There will be a new life for the old Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, but this time it will be underwater as a reef.

More than 43,000 cubic yards of materials will be shipped to the shores of Long Island to create six artificial reefs, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at an event on Tuesday, April 17.

The reefs will be at sites off the shores of Smithtown, Shinnecock, Moriches, Fire Island, Hempstead and Rockaway.

The Tappan Zee bridge stopped being used last year as the new 3.1-mile, twin-span bridge opened across the Hudson River between Rockland and Westchester counties. The new bridge is known as the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

The New York State Thruway Authority retired the old bridge on Oct. 6, 2017, after nearly 62 years of service. The bridge was closed due to a number reasons, such as high accident rates and maintenance costs.

Tappan Zee Bridge construction 05-2018

A general view of the new Mario Cuomo Bridge as crews work on dismantling the old Tappan Zee Bridge, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Tarrytown, N.Y. Parts of the old bridge will be sunk to create reefs as a way to dispose of the material. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

"There is a bridge heaven," Cuomo said at an event. "Bridge heaven is you spent all your life above the water, serving people and then you go to bridge heaven -- which is you go below the water and you actually create marine habitat."

The old Tappan Zee Bridge materials will be cleaned of toxic chemicals and approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for reuse, Cuomo said.

It is the largest expansion of artificial reefs in New York state history. It is the state's first comprehensive program to construct artificial reefs, according to the press release.

Construction of New York's first artificial reef dates back to 1949. This latest initiative marks the state's first coordinated effort to stimulate the full environmental and economic benefits of artificial reefs.

The program will help to improve New York's diverse marine life and boost Long Island's recreational and sport fishing industries.

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"The sustainability and health of New York's marine resources is critical to communities along our shores, and by constructing these reef habitats, we are investing in a stronger more diverse marine ecosystem," Cuomo said in the press release.

The state will deploy materials including tug boats, barges and scows, as well as concrete and clean, recycled materials from the demolition of the former Tappan Zee Bridge, the press release reads.

The announcement is the latest effort by the state to reuse parts of the old Tappan Zee Bridge.

Last July, the New York Thruway Authority announced it would give away portions of the bridge's deck and its movable barrier system to upstate counties and New York City.

"We have a proven fact that there is an afterlife-- at least for bridges," Cuomo said.

Tappan Zee Bridge 05-2018

A general view of the new Mario Cuomo Bridge, back, as crews work on dismantling the old Tappan Zee Bridge, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Tarrytown, N.Y. Parts of the old bridge will be sunk to create reefs as a way to dispose of the material. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Beginning in May, state agencies started to deploy 33 barges of Tappan Zee Bridge recycled materials and 30 vessels that have been cleaned of all contaminants to the Long Island reef sites.

A total of 43,200 cubic yards of recycled Tappan Zee Bridge material, 338 cubic yards of steel pipe from the Department of Transportation (DOT), and 5,900 cubic yards of jetty rock will be submerged and added to six reef sites as part of the first phase of the initiative, according to the press release.

New York's marine resources are critical to the state's economy. It supports nearly 350,000 jobs and generates billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries.

The artificial reefs will support the region's growing marine economy, which accounts for approximately 9.7 percent of Long Island's total GDP.

"Governor Cuomo recognizes that expanding Long Island's artificial reefs will bolster the economies of our fisheries. This is a wonderful and innovative way to reuse materials from state infrastructure projects," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.

Artificial reef creation

In this Jan. 20, 2017 photo provided by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a former cargo vessel named Kraken sinks more than 60 miles off the coast of Galveston, Texas, to become an artificial reef. The ship is expected to become a home to fish, coral and other invertebrates plus being a destination for divers. (Texas Parks and Wildlife Department via AP)

Artificial reefs

A pile of scrap tires and other debris in the water off Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Calif. Divers are removing hundreds of old tires, plastic jugs and other junk that were dumped off the Southern California coast nearly 30 years ago in hopes of creating an artificial reef that would serve as a home to fish and mussels. (California Coastal Commission/UC Davis via AP)

An artificial reef is a human-made structure that may mimic some of the characteristics of a natural reef, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Submerged shipwrecks are the most common form of artificial reef. Oil and gas platforms, bridges, old tires, dredge rocks, lighthouses and other offshore structures may often function as artificial reefs.

Planned artificial reefs can have numerous local economic benefits because they attract fish to a known location. Therefore, they are popular attractions for commercial and recreational fishermen, divers and snorkelers, according to NOAA.

"As the largest artificial reef construction program in state history, these efforts will increase New York's marine biodiversity, provide new habitats for a variety of coral and fish, and support a growing tourism industry that brings thousands of anglers and travelers to Long Island's pristine waters every year," Cuomo said.

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