Damaged and unusable pipes will help sustain marine life

WHITEVILLE – More than 1,000 tons of damaged concrete pipes will be used to help shore up two artificial reefs off the Brunswick County coast.

Personnel from the North Carolina Department of Transportation maintenance yard in Columbus County recently transported the equipment to the Port of Wilmington. Discarded culverts had accumulated over the past few years following an aggressive pipe replacement program. Some of the pipes that had been replaced were damaged by hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

In addition, the department’s Bladen County Maintenance Yard sent more than 100 tons of similarly damaged pipes, intended for the same purpose, to the port last week.

The NCDOT is partnering with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to find a new, cost-effective use for the discarded pipe that will help support marine life on the North Carolina coast. The division, part of the NC Department of Environmental Quality, maintains several artificial reefs that create ideal fish habitat and fishing spots.

Whiteville-based NCDOT district engineer Ken Clark said the idea to donate the pipe originated at a coastal resilience conference. It was then that he discovered that the Marine Fisheries Division could repurpose its stockpile of barrel-shaped precast concrete pipes to augment existing artificial reefs.

“We considered many options on how to properly dispose of this unusable material when we formed this unique collaboration with the Division of Marine Fisheries last year,” Clark said. “This program mutually benefits both state agencies.”

Disposal of the materials in a construction and demolition landfill would have cost NCDOT $65,000 in tipping fees.

The department avoided paying this fee and instead used dump trucks and trailers to transport over 1,000 pieces of pipe from Whiteville to the port.

Artificial reefs create habitat for fish by creating three-dimensional structures that replicate the ecological functions of food and shelter that fish and other marine life need to survive. Artificial reefs are considered crucial spawning and feeding habitats for many commercially and recreationally important fish species.

The NC Division of Marine Fisheries leased space at the port to store the piping and received federal permission to build the artificial reefs. According to the division, a marine contractor will use a barge this spring to transport and then unload the material on artificial reefs off Oak Island and Shallotte. The division is also stockpiling damaged concrete pipes at the port from commercial factories for the same reef project.

Anyone wanting more information about the artificial reef program can contact Jordan Byrum, the artificial reef coordinator for the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, by calling 252-808-8036 or emailing. [email protected]

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