Sixteen nautical miles from the Indian River Inlet and about 80 feet underwater, a building boom is under way at the Red Bird Reef.
One by one, a backhoe operator has been shoving hundreds of retired New York subway cars off a barge, continuing the transformation of a barren stretch of ocean floor into a bountiful oasis, carpeted in sea grasses, walled thick with blue mussels and sponges, and teeming with black sea bass and tautog.
"They're basically luxury condominiums for fish," Jeff Tinsman, the artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said as one of 48 of the 19-ton retirees from New York sank toward the 666 already on the ocean floor.
But now, Delaware is struggling with the misfortune of its own success.
....The summer flounder and bass have snuggled so tightly on top and in the nooks of the subway cars that Tinsman is trying to expand the housing capacity. He is having trouble, however, because other states, seeing Delaware's successes, have started competing for the subway cars, which New York provides free.
...."The secret is out, I guess," said Michael Zacchea, the Metropolitan Transit Authority official in charge of getting rid of old New York subway cars.
Delaware's prospects for expanding the reef look grim, Zacchea added, because the state of New York has said it wants all of the city's retired subway cars once the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers updates the state's reef permit this summer. Zacchea said he would soon stop shipments out of state, saving perhaps $2 million in transport costs.