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Making a diver's playground

Local group plans artificial wreck for Auke Rec

Posted: Sunday, August 04, 2002

A group of local divers is cleaning up a derelict 40-foot sailboat they plan to sink off the Auke Village Recreation Area in what they call an "aquatic enhancement project."

Avid Juneau scuba diver Larry Musarra filed a permit request with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday as part of what has been a grueling process to try and create an artificial reef that is easily accessible to Juneau divers.

"We've been kicking this idea around for a couple of years," said Musarra, who has teamed up with Channel Dive Shop owner John Lachelt.

After a failed attempt to acquire a historic boat from Haines, Musarra and Lachelt caught wind of an aging sailboat docked at Trucano Construction near the Douglas Bridge.

"It's a nice, nice boat for what we want to do," said Musarra.

He said they plan to "Swiss cheese it," by cutting large holes throughout the boat to provide safe and easy access for divers to explore the vessel, which is to be placed at a depth of about 50 feet.

Cynthia Larson, office manager at Trucano Construction, said the boat is known around the office as "the no-name boat." She said the original owner "could no longer care for his boat, so he was looking for alternate ways of disposing it."

Larson said Trucano is eager to see the boat leave because the company needs the space the dormant boat is occupying.

"It's a happy ending. He's (Musarra) living a dream," she said. "He's been wanting to do this for a very long time. There's many blessings."

Before the dream fully morphs into reality, the divers must go through the proper procedures and permitting process to legally sink the boat.

John Leeds, manager of the Juneau field office of the Corps of Engineers, said before the permit can be issued a 30-day public review process and 50-day state review process must be completed.

"We have to check with local boaters, harbormasters, the Coast Guard and anyone who might be interested," said Leeds.

Leeds said the sunken boat would have to be well marked and in deep enough water to not be a navigational hazard.

"My primary concern is that it might shift or move and become a navigational hazard," said Leeds. "This might happen during a large storm event, so we want to make sure it's well anchored."

Lt. Cmdr. Joe Paitl, an executive officer for the Coast Guard, shares similar concerns. He said, "Our major concerns would be that it's not a threat to navigation or an environmental threat."

Paitl said the boat would have to be free and clean of oil products and sunk deep enough to not cause any hazards on the water.

The divers don't want to litter the area, just create an artificial haven for marine life to congregate and prosper for divers to enjoy, said Musarra.

"My picture wasn't to have an underwater junkyard," he said. He wants, "a road system underwater in a safe and protected environment. Auke Rec is the ideal place."

"There's not a lot of fish life out there," said Lachelt. He said he hopes that this artificial wreck will attract a variety of marine life, including king crab, Dungeness crab, octopus, halibut, plankton, salmon and more.

Musarra said Auke Rec currently has, "a few tires that might have some life in them, but that's about it."

"Who knows, in five or 10 years you might be able to catch all the fish you would want out there," said Lachelt.

Leeds said if the permit is granted and the boat is sunk, it would have to be put on maps and charts as a wreck or artificial reef.

"Hopefully they've done their homework with the state and local agencies," said Leeds. "Whoever gets the permit for it is required by law to maintain that structure. If it does shift or move around, they are responsible for it."

Musarra said due to the extreme weight of the Ferro-cement hull, which uses steel wires covered with sand and cement plaster, and Auke Rec being a "low energy" beach, he expects the boat will stay where it's put.

"There's a sufficient amount of weight on a Ferro-cement hull sailboat to keep it anchored," he said.

Because artificial reefs are so common in coastal states and in other countries, the divers are confident the permit will be granted.

"There's herds of them all around Florida," said Lachelt. "Some of the cleanups have been absolutely remarkable."

The divers are funding the project out of their own pockets and are looking for volunteers to help, especially with the cleanup phase of the project. They are seeking the donation of a large bin or Dumpster to adequately dispose of the parts and garbage being cleared out of the boat.

Musarra described the "no-name boat" as "a small 40-foot start" for an underwater playground.

Lachelt and Musarra said they are hoping local divers will use the site, as well as respect it.

"We want divers to take pictures and leave bubbles," said Lachelt.

For more information about volunteering goods and/or services, call Su Lachelt at 789-7969.

Eric Morrison can be reached at nrclerk@juneauempire.com.



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