Monday, January 16, 2006

 

Oriskany sinking cleared

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Navy Times
By Lynette Wilson
January 11, 2005

If all goes according to plan, the Oriskany could take its place as a fishing reef on the Gulf of Mexico’s floor by June 1, just in time to beat the 2006 hurricane season.

Capt. Larry Jones oversees the Navy’s inactive ship program, and he doesn’t plan to haul the Oriskany back to Pensacola from Beaumont, Texas, unless he can sink it, he said.

“I know you want it. I want you to have it,” Jones told a crowd of more than 100 people gathered for a public hearing on the decommissioned aircraft carrier’s fate Tuesday. “That’s why we are here to address the PCB issue first and foremost.”

The EPA has determined that the 700 pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, left on board primarily in the Oriskany’s electrical wiring don’t pose an unreasonable risk to human or marine life.

Federal Environmental Protection Agency and Navy officials outlined the Oriskany’s status Tuesday and responded to questions and concerns at a Pensacola Junior College forum. The public has until Jan. 19 to comment on the proposed sinking. Once the comments are reviewed, the EPA likely will approve the sinking of the ship.

Craig Brown, EPA’s project manager for the Oriskany, has received more than 150 letters and e-mail messages in support of sinking the ship, and not one in opposition, he said.

The plan is to turn the 888-foot flattop used in the Korean and Vietnam wars into an international fishing and diving destination, the pilot project for a new program to cheaply dispose of decommissioned vessels to the benefit of coastal communities throughout the nation.

The only other aircraft carrier available for diving is in Bikini Atoll, in the southwest Pacific, said Fritz Sharar, co-owner of MBT Divers of Pensacola.

“This will be one of a kind (in the nation),” he said.EPA approval is what has kept the Oriskany afloat as projected sink dates have slipped by, beginning in September 2004.

Studies have shown that PCBs cause cancer and have harmful effects on the endocrine, immune and nervous systems of humans and animals. PCBs are persistent and don’t readily breakdown in the environment.

Ken Mitchell, a section chief in EPA Region 4, described a diver’s risk of PCB exposure as minimal given the short amount of time spent diving and the route of exposure.

The most likely exposure route is through eating contaminated fish or swallowing contaminated water. That threat also is minimized because the PCBs are in solid form and are, for the most part, insoluble in water, he said.


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