By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
VOLUSIA COUNTY - County Manager Jim Dinneen is eyeing sunken treasure.
"I think we should make a new goal," he told the Volusia County Council at its Aug. 9 meeting. "I think we should aim to make the world's best artificial reef."
In an interview after the meeting, Mr. Dinneen said the artificial reef program is infrastructure with several advantages, and no obvious downsides. With artificial reefs the bigger the county thinks, the greater the economic rewards, he said. The reefs attract commercial and recreational fishers, divers and other tourists to Volusia - and they always bring cash. The manager said that cash goes into several area businesses, which then spend it at others. "It's one of the best returns on investment," Mr. Dineen said. "There is a multiplier for this type of activity. We know there's an economic impact for what we've already done."
Joe Nolin, coastal division director, said the county's artificial reef program started in 1980. That was with the sinking of the World War II repair ship USS Mindanao about 11 miles offshore. Mr. Nolin said the county has 13 federally permitted artificial reef and marine habitat construction sites. Each is about 5,000 by 5,000 square feet. Material for forming artificial reefs is spaced about 500 to 2,500 feet apart. The reefs are started with concrete structures, culvert pipes, and steel ships. Mr. Nolin said the starter material is usually donated.
The program steadily grew from 1980 to 2004. That year, the county sunk the island trader Antilles Star to start a reef. Mr. Nolin said from 2005 to 2010, the county didn't add any material for starting reefs. It's aggressively added material since 2010, when the county council opted to double the number of artificial reefs.
"It was easy to define 'double it,'" Mr. Dinneen said. "Making it 'the best in the world,' we'll need to do some research to find out what that means."
The reefs attract a wide variety of marine creatures, including several species of fish, rays, sharks, dolphins, turtles, crabs, shrimp, octopoles, corals and others.
"Once you place (starter material), it almost has - to some degree - an infinite value," Mr. Dinneen said. "They don't go away over time. The value grows every year. It gets enhanced by the life forms that gather."
County Council member Joie Alexander, New Smyrna Beach, said talking about creating the best artificial reef isn't hyperbole.
"I think it is a realistic goal," she said. "I'd love to have the world's most famous reef program."