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Remains Of Old Tappan Zee Bridge Used To Make Artificial Reef Off Long Island

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The remnants of a bridge that once carried about 140,000 vehicles a day are getting a new life.

Hundreds of thousands of tons of steel and concrete from the old Tappan Zee Bridge is now being used to create new ecological habitats, CBS2's Don Dahler reported Monday.

Along New York's iconic Long Island coast, not far from its shores, the state is dumping a reusable resource into its waters.

Carl LoBue has been navigating these waters nearly all his life, and for the past 25 years as a marine scientist he has helped protect them.

"Putting material, like material from the Tappan Zee Bridge, isn't pollution. It's adding and creating habitat that is valued by a lot of different fish species," said LoBue, Oceans Program Director for The Nature Conservancy.

"This is the largest infrastructure project going on in the nation, right now," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said recently.

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Cuomo is behind the new $4 billion Tappan Zee Bridge project, which is still under construction. Lurking just behind the new structure is what's left of the old bridge.

"There is a bridge heaven. Bridge heaven is, you spend all your life above the water serving people, 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. In all, 33 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 reefs home.

When asked if this is just a clever way to save money by just dumping this material in the ocean, Cuomo said, "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."

So there is nothing detrimental in the materials to the environment?

"No, the materials are all cleaned, and what they provide is an ecosystem underneath," Cuomo said.

Does LoBue approve of the old bridge's new use?

"I do. A lot of us had thought, when we first heard the bridge was going to be replaced, wouldn't it be great if this is what they did with the material? And, really, incredibly rapidly, it was mobilized," LoBue said.

In addition to helping the marine life, the governor's office said the expansion of the reef, which is about two miles offshore, will also help local businesses by encouraging more recreational fishing and diving, and that, potentially, could create thousands of job.

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