Tire Trouble: $1.5 million project underway to remove failed reef

WSVN — There's an effort underway to remove thousands of tires from the ocean floor off Broward's coast, but not everyone is on board with the amount of money being sunk into the project. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

In 1972, with the Goodyear Blimp overhead, a plan to dump up to two million old tires off the coast of Fort Lauderdale was launched. The idea? The tires would become the foundation of an artificial reef.

The reality? A big mess.

No permanent habitat formed. The strapping used to hold the tires together broke. That left some 700,000 tires floating free, and a big environmental problem.

Pat Quinn, Broward County Environmental Protection: "They are damaging the reef, yes. Imagine, if you drop a tire on your front yard, pick it up a week later and look at what the grass is going to look like underneath the tire."

Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca: "We can't go back, but I'd love to meet the environmental scientist who thought this was a good idea."

Cleaning up a bad idea has not been easy — or cheap. Military divers removed roughly 72,000 tires years ago. And now, an even more ambitious plan.

Rocco Galletta, Industrial Divers Corp.: "Our goal is to remove 90,000 tires in the first two years."

7News traveled a mile off the beach for an up close look at the project. The state has hired Industrial Divers, a local company to do the job. It's being paid more than $15 per tire for a total of more than $1.5 million.

The company says, it is public money absolutely well spent.

Rocco Galletta: "We're doing this job for the state of Florida, using the Florida DEP's money, in a very efficient way. If anybody can do this job for less money, we would back out."

But an environmental activist and longtime critic of the way the government has handled the tire situation says paying a company per tire will leave too many remaining on the ocean floor.

David Pressler: "It's a flaw, it's a flaw. You're leaving 600,000 tires in the ocean. It should have been, a minimum amount of tires removed annually, 350,000."

But there is no disagreement that the tires need to go.

Pat Quinn: "It's definitely a severe environmental problem that we have."

A county environmental expert says that, while the small barge may not be the most efficient way to haul in the most tires, the goal is not to damage the coral reef by anchoring a larger vessel in the area.

Pat Quinn: "At this point, there's no other way that we've come up that's really economically feasible and environmentally sensitive enough to pull the tires up, other than really doing it with divers by hand."

So by hand it is, 70 feet below the surface. A diver ties the tires together before a crane lifts them out of the water and onto the barge. They are then brought to Port Everglades, transferred to a truck and driven to Central Florida to be burned for clean energy.

Carmel Cafiero: "Experts say many of the tires are buried in the sand, and removing all of them is not likely. So those tires from days gone by could stay submerged — long after we're gone. Carmel Cafiero, 7News."

To watch more of the underwater video, log on to wsvn.com and click on "Online Extra."
Video courtesy: Industrial Divers Corp.

IF YOU HAVE A STORY FOR CARMEL TO INVESTIGATE:

Miami-Dade: 305-627-CLUE
Broward: 954-921-CLUE
E-mail: clue@wsvn.com
You can also send a tweet to @carmelonthecase.