Historic submarine could turn into artificial reef off Jupiter coast

Project could be a first for the state of Florida
Posted at 8:31 PM, Jan 11, 2017

Something big is coming to the shores of Jupiter and Juno beaches.

Palm Beach County leaders want to sink a decades-old submarine to create an artificial reef. Retired U.S. Navy submarine USS Clamagore is 320 feet long and dates all the way back to World War II. It served during the Cold War.

Right now, it's based at Patriot's Point Naval and Maritime Museum in South Carolina but the hull is deteriorating and the submarine is on the verge of capsizing. Palm Beach County commissioners say it's getting too expensive for the museum to maintain. 

"The museum up in Charleston is losing money and they would really like to unload this as quickly as possible," said PBC commissioner Hal Valeche, whose district includes Jupiter. "We wanted to honor the people that served on it, we wanted to honor the submarine service in general."

On Tuesday, Palm Beach County commissioners voted unanimously to set aside $1 million towards a project to sink submarine. This could be the very first submarine in the entire state to be sunk off the coast as an artificial reef.

Commissioner Valeche believes the USS Clamagore could be a new tourism draw for divers. The sub would be sunk to depths of about 90 feet.

"I don't think very many people have a submarine as a diver destination," he said.

Valeche said the money the county is using to contribute to the submarine is not coming from taxpayers.

"It's coming from the marine vessel registration fees. So it's not in any way supported by taxpayers," he said.

The total cost of cleaning out, moving and sinking the submarine is $4 million. While the county will cover $1 million, the contract will be voided if the remaining $3 million is not raised by private sources.

Jena McNeal, the artificial reef coordinator for the Department of Environmental Resources Management says the submarine will be a great benefit to the environment. Currently, there are about 150 artificial reefs in Palm Beach County.

"They provide additional habitats for fish and corals to grow on, and they also take the pressure off natural reefs. So divers can visit these artificial reefs instead of our natural reefs," she said.

McNeal said the county was approached by Patriot's Point about the project. Her department worked with the West Palm Beach Diving Association to find a suitable site for the submarine. A site has been selected about two miles south of the Juno Beach Pier.

But the news is shaking things up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where a group called the USS Clamagore Preservation and Memorial Association worked for years to preserve the submarine. 

"It's very depressing," said Marlin Helms, the group's vice chairman. "I was really hoping to bring it to Tennessee. We wanted to use it as the foundation of a military history museum."

County commissioners say this is the best option for the submarine.

"I think reality is, if we don't do it, it's going to get scrapped. It would be turned into razor blades," said Valeche.

Wesley John and his grandson, Dillon, are one of the hundreds who fish off the Jupiter coast.

"I can't wait. I'd love to see the sub before they sink it," said Wesley. "I was old enough to remember the WWII subs and how important they were. And to see one before it goes down would be a thrill."

The new addition to the waters could make fishing a bit more interesting.

"Something like that could attract more wildlife and more divers, maybe bring some more fish here," said Dillon.

If the project finds enough funding,county leaders say you can expect to see the submarine sink later this year or early next year.