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A Fitting Tribute to a Lost Daughter

Thu, 11/11/2021 - 09:36
Seen here being towed toward its "retirement" home, the Shannon C, a 60-foot steel barge, is the latest vessel to be added to the Shinnecock artificial reef.
Courtesy DJ Whelan Corp.

When she was young, Shannon Cecilia Whelan was a crew member aboard a steel barge owned by her parents' marine construction business. A lover of all things water — sailing, fishing, surfing — Ms. Whelan, formerly of Sag Harbor, was the namesake for the barge. A mother of three children, she died in 2019 at the age of 38.

 It's only fitting, then, said her mother, Mary Whelan, that the barge, the Shannon C, became the latest addition to an artificial reef off the county fishing pier at Shinnecock, where it is expected to support both marine life and recreational opportunities.

 "It was sort of a bittersweet moment," Ms. Whelan said in an interview this week. Her husband, Dave Whelan, "had tears in his eyes when it was going down, and I felt the same way. This barge has been with us for over 35 years, but it served its purpose, and now it's going to have a further purpose for a long time to come."

 Mr. Whelan, who has been in business for 44 years, engineered the whole process, which was quite lengthy. Before it was sunk 50 feet below the surface last Thursday, the barge had to be inspected multiple times by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the United States Coast Guard. Then, it was a matter of waiting for the weather to cooperate. The D.E.C. monitored the operation in another boat.

 Mr. Whelan said the barge landed flat, deck-side up, as was intended.

 "We started flooding compartments to get the barge to go down smoothly," he said. "We had to put it on GPS -- that all went really well. It took maybe an hour and a half after we towed it out there and anchored it to eventually sink it. You can actually see it now on sonar, which is kind of neat."

 The Whelans, who live in Sag Harbor, knew of the D.E.C.'s artificial reef program for years as part of their construction business, and first learned about the Shinnecock reef in a Newsday article two years ago. The D.E.C. manages 12 such reefs in New York State waters, and since 2018, it has established and bolstered the Shinnecock reef with 521 cubic yards of materials from the Tappan Zee Bridge, 200 tons of steel pipe, columns, beams, girders, and trusses left over from state transportation department projects, one steel barge and two other vessels from the New York Canal Corporation, and seven center-beam railcars.

 The Shannon C "needed repair, and it could have been repaired," Ms. Whelan said, "but we decided to donate it. It was a good way to contribute. . . . We felt good about it in that it would be a memorial, a site that we could always visit."

 Built on the North Fork in 1973, the Shannon C measured 60 feet long and weighed 100 tons. At one point it was self-propelled, but by the end of its useful life it needed towing, Mr. Whelan explained. In its heyday, he took the barge all over New England for marine construction jobs.

 "We had it in Shinnecock," he said. "One of the first jobs I did with it was to do all the pile driving for the county fishing pier."

 The Whelans have also previously contributed to an artificial reef, in Rockaway, Queens, when Mr. Whelan was demolishing the concrete Navy Pier at Floyd Bennett Field.

 The D.E.C. said the barge has also been used as a launching platform for fireworks shows in East Hampton, Westhampton Beach, and Shelter Island.

 Its benefits will take several years to come to fruition, and along the way, the commercial fishing industry will be watching the Shinnecock artificial reef.

 "We just want to make sure we don't wind up getting pushed off areas that are traditionally really productive. You don't want unintended consequences," said Bonnie Brady of Montauk, a member of the East Hampton Town Fisheries Advisory Committee and a commercial fishing industry advocate.

 In a statement, D.E.C. commissioner Basil Seggos said the agency is "excited about this addition to the reef and continuing to advance New York State's efforts to improve marine habitat."

 "This latest successful addition to the Shinnecock artificial reef helps connect a bit of the region's maritime past with Long Island's economic future," he said. "The Shannon C will enjoy her retirement as the newest attraction for marine life and the anglers and divers who seek a thrill."

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