On the water: Old bridge builds artificial reef

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Parts of the old Lesner Bridge are being put to good use. 10 On Your Side back in February that parts of the bridge are headed to an artificial reef.

It’s an old bridge with a new purpose. Concrete blocks from the old Lesner Bridge are making their way up the Eastern Shore to the Cabbage Patch Reef.

“A donation like this is fantastic for us,” said Alicia Nelson, who is the artificial reef coordinator for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).

Gallery: Old Lesner Bridge concrete creates reef

Two years ago, there were state budge cuts and the VMRC lost funding for its artificial reef program. Now, they rely solely on donations and grants. The latest donation: About 20,000 tons of concrete from McLean Contracting, the group that’s renovating the Lesner Bridge.

Nelson said, “To put that in perspective, existing on the site, including the 7,000 tons that’s already gone out, is only about 17,000 tons.” Today’s concrete deposit was 12,000 tons, with each one weighing roughly 1,000 pounds.

Each piece is inspected before leaving the bridge construction site.

“No petrochemicals, no types of paints or anything like that that may harm the environment,” said Nelson. “We’re also looking at things that aren’t too crumbly so we want good, big pieces. We want structure.”

You wouldn’t know the reef is there if it wasn’t for the barge. But thanks to technology, you can find it pretty easily. The VMRC app uses a phone’s GPS to tell you where you are in the water and then tells you what’s nearby. Nelson said, “You can find out exactly how much tonnage is there, what it was, and when it went there.”

The reef was created in October 2000. 17 years later, it’s putting old concrete to good use.

“To see a really big construction project kind of go full circle from being a bridge and people are driving over it in their cars, to them turning it into a fish habitat. It’s great for us,” said Nelson.

The entire project will take about 20 trips to complete and Wednesday’s was trip number 8.

Part of the bridge is also headed to Virginia Tech. Researches will analyze different parts of the bridge, like concrete cores and deck cores.