Ready to Rise: Owner trying to refloat barge today with TVA's help

Ready to Rise: Owner trying to refloat barge today with TVA's help

June 8th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

Jon Thurmond, left, and Brock Sparks walk on a barge across from Ross's Landing while preparing the structure to be refloated. TVA plans to lower water levels Friday so that repairs can be made to the barge.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

As the Riverbend Festival starts today, the Tennessee Valley Authority has agreed to temporarily cut the Tennessee River's flow to help refloat a half-submerged barge across from Ross's Landing.

"Everybody is trying to work with us," said Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey, whose company owns the barge. "I'm embarrassed it has taken this long."

TVA planned to limit the water discharge through Chickamauga Dam overnight and cut any flow through the dam from noon until 5 p.m. today, TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said. The move, which TVA estimates will lower the river's elevation by up to 5 inches, is aimed at enabling workers to pump water out of the barge.

The barge holds rundown buildings that Casey plans to turn into a restaurant and bar. It is moored to a vacant 12-acre waterfront parcel off Manufacturers Road.

In late November, Casey said something caused the barge to shift to one side and water started pouring in while the river level rose.

Since that time, Casey has worked with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which permitted the barge, to try to refloat it.

But with the Riverbend Festival starting on what's called the city's front porch, some people think that the time is overdue.

"It's an eyesore. It's a blight," said Bob Doak, who heads the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It doesn't present a good image for our city."

Doak added that if Casey can get the restaurant up and going, "it could be a tremendous asset for the city. People love waterfront dining."

Jerry Sterling, of the nonprofit Riverfront Business & Resident Partnership, said it wants to see the barge made presentable.

The Partnership, a coalition of companies and residents, is willing to work with Casey to fashion a plan for the barge, he said.

"Let's come up with a solution and work together," Sterling said.

Today's effort will be the second attempt in about a week to refloat the barge, Casey said. He added that workers have discovered a crack in the barge, but it's above the waterline and plans are to seal it.

Tammy R. Turley, chief of the Corps of Engineers Regulatory Branch, Nashville District, said in a statement that she wasn't at liberty to discuss the barge because it's an ongoing enforcement action.

"However, the corps continues to work closely with the barge owner and understands the owner is making efforts to reclaim the barge, which may be aided by the recent lower water levels," she said.

Casey, who originally developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo into a top tourism attraction over three decades ago, said the barge project is part of larger plans to develop the property.