FIRE ISLAND, N.Y. -- The remnants of the Old Tappan Zee Bridge that once carried about 140,000 vehicles a day are getting a new life. Once spanning the Hudson River north of New York City, demolition began last year after construction of a modern replacement. It leaves behind hundreds of thousands of tons of steel and concrete which will help create new ecological habitats.
Along New York's iconic Long Island coast, there is a 744-acre reef about two miles off shore in about 60 to 70 feet of water, the state is dumping a reusable resource into its waters. Carl LoBue of the Nature Conservancy has been navigating these waters nearly all his life. For the past 25 years as a marine scientist, he's helping protect them.
"Putting... material from the Tappan Zee Bridge isn't pollution. It's creating habitat that's really valued by a lot of different fish species," LoBue said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is behind the new $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project, which is still under construction. And lurking just behind that, is what's left of the old bridge.
"Is there a bridge heaven? Well, there is a bridge heaven. Bridge heaven is, you spend all your life above the water serving people, and then you go to bridge heaven, which is you go below the water," Cuomo said.
More than 11,000 tons of recycled steel and concrete will be used to expand the state's artificial reef program. Thirty-three barges are hauling the material from the bridge's old footprint – down the Hudson River – to the Long Island coastline. It's the largest renovation in New York history, additional square footage for marine life that call the reef's home.
"How is this not just a clever way of saving money by just dumping this material in the ocean?" Dahler asked Cuomo.
"Artificial reefs are used all across the country and all across the world… it promotes the fishery, it promotes the ecosystem, it promotes recreation, they become diving sites, etc." Cuomo responded.
"So there is nothing detrimental in the materials to the environment," Dahler said.
"No. The materials are all cleaned, and what they provide is an ecosystem underneath," Cuomo said.
LoBue agrees it's a good use of the old bridge.
"A lot of us had thought, when we first heard the bridge was going to be replaced, that, wouldn't it be great if this is what they did with the material… and really incredibly rapidly, it was mobilized," he said.
Cuomo's office tells us expansion of these reefs will help increase the local marine biodiversity. According to the governor, it will also lead to better recreational fishing and diving, which helps support local businesses, and will potentially add thousands of jobs to the area.