RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More than 1,000 tons of concrete pipes will be used to enhance artificial reefs at the North Carolina coast.

For the last 15 years, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has accumulated thousands of pounds of damaged concrete pipes at their Columbus County and Bladen County yards.

Much of the pipes were once in culverts and were damaged by Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. Many of the pipes have also been removed during replacement projects.

“We didn’t just do this overnight, but eventually the pile was getting so big, that we were running out of ideas of what to do with it,” said Andrew Barksdale, a spokesperson with NCDOT.

NCDOT is partnering with the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to repurpose the old pipes.

Ken Clark, NCDOT’s district engineer based in Whiteville, got the idea while at a conference for coastal resiliency. He learned the state Division of Marine Fisheries was looking for similar material to enhance existing artificial reefs. 

“It’s not totally unheard of, but it’s a partnership that is mutually beneficial to our state and to the Division of Marine Fisheries. It works out for both of us,” said Barksdale.

Barksdale said while concrete is recyclable, these pipes have rebar in them making it more difficult to recycle or repurpose. Disposing of them correctly would have cost the state $65,000.

Using them for artificial reefs meant NCDOT only had to pay what it costs in fuel and manpower to get the pipes to the Port of Wilmington.

“Not every county maintenance yard has this kind of a problem with their scrap culverts. It’s just a neat way for us to repurpose this stuff,” said Barksdale.

This kind of repurposing wouldn’t work for every county. If a maintenance yard is in the mountains, several hours away from the coast or doesn’t have as much scrap to get rid of, it may not be worth the cost of driving it out to the port.

The state maintains several artificial reefs. They create habitat for fish and are considered crucial spawning and foraging habitat for many commercially and recreationally important fish species, according to the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.