MT. PLEASANT, SC (WCSC) - A new deep-water reef is in the works after the old Highway 41 bridge was taken apart Friday afternoon, said officials with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Spokeswoman Erin Weeks said the 78-year-old steel swing bridge was lowered by a crane onto the back of a barge Friday afternoon.
Now, the bridge will head 50 miles off the coast of Charleston to become an artificial reef.
Weeks said this is part of the South Carolina Memorial Reef which provides an environment for fish and sea life, which was formerly a sandy area on the seafloor.
The Memorial Reed fund was started by an independent group of recreational fishermen in memory of family. Now the fund is part of a permitted Marine Protected Area called the Charleston Deep Reef.
The first part of the reef was planted in 2014, according to Weeks. So far two retired barges piled with shipping containers, truck chassis, and radio towers have already attracted a variety of fish including snowy grouper, and large billfish like blue marlins and sailfish.
"The large number billfish caught and released in and around the South Carolina Memorial Reef this summer has been unprecedented," said Amy Dukes, tournament coordinator for the Governor's Cup Billfishing Series. "There's so much life in that area, and the bridge is just going to make it more alive."
The old Highway 41 bridge will undergo a cleaning process before it can be placed in the reef. After it's cleaned, the bridge will then be welded to the barge, with the goal to have a completed structure sunk at the site by late summer 2017.
"We're really excited to add new structure to this protected site," said SCDNR artificial reef coordinator Robert Martore. "The previous barges have been functioning so well in attracting deep water grouper species, additional material will only add to the area's productivity."
The project is estimated to cost $180,000 and will be funded by conservation groups and private individuals.
The new Highway 41 bridge over the Wando River opened July 28. The bridge was nearing the end of its design life and parts of the design no longer met current standards, according to South Carolina Department of Transportation officials.