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Instead of scrapping the USS Bonhomme Richard, Florida lawmakers want it for a reef

The 844-foot-long assault ship caught fire and burned for days while stationed last summer at Naval Base San Diego.
Credit: Lt. John J. Mike/U.S. Navy via AP
In a photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Port of San Diego Harbor Police boats fight a fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, Sunday, July 12, 2020.

WASHINGTON — Florida lawmakers from across the aisle ask for the USS Bonhomme Richard to be moved and used as an artificial reef rather than the Navy advancing plans to dismantle and scrap it.

It would cost "significantly less than" an estimated $30 million to place the 844-foot-long Wasp-class amphibious assault ship in Florida waters than to sell its bits and pieces, wrote members of Congress in a letter to Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker. 

They argue it could be an economic and environmental benefit to the state.

The USS Bonhomme Richard burned for almost five days last summer following an explosion while stationed at Naval Base San Diego. A sailor was investigated for arson, but no charges were filed. Restoring the ship to its original form with 60 percent of it sustaining damage ranged from $2.5 billion to $3.2 billion, according to the U.S. Naval Institute News. It reports decommission and scrapping the ship would cost about $30 million.

More than 60 sailors and civilian firefighters were hurt.

"The USS Bonhomme Richard is an ideal candidate for artificial reefing and would be welcomed by the people of Florida," reads the lawmakers' letter, in part. "The State of Florida is well-positioned to be home to the USS Bonhomme Richard. We have existing active federal permits for artificial reef construction, including several areas in the waters off Miami permitted for large vessel reefing.

"We also have stakeholders, communities, and community-based organizations that are ready to embrace it."

Some of the signatories include Republican lawmakers Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan and Matt Gaetz, plus Democrats Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 

Such a ship wouldn't be the first off Florida's coast, lawmakers wrote to the Navy, noting three ships currently are located near Daytona Beach, Key Largo and Pensacola.

"These ships created an instant ecosystem for fish and wildlife, created brand new recreational fishing destinations for anglers, provided a water wonderland for divers, boosted local and state economies, and increased military maritime heritage visibility for military veterans and historians," the letter reads.

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