A rundown barge moored on the North Shore's riverfront may finally be on a path to removal.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Shelly Rucker on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a plan for a company to buy and dismantle the barge, which is expected to begin by early fall.
"It's excellent that we've got prospects of getting the problem solved," the judge said about the barge that has been a lightning rod of criticism from city leaders and downtown boosters.
She said during a hearing that she would sign an order that would sell the barge to Georgia company RCW Inc., which submitted a lone bid for the controversial barge that sits across from Ross's Landing.
Chattanooga attorney Gary Patrick said RCW has 21 days to submit a plan to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will need to OK the blueprint to dismantle the barge at its existing site and remove the dilapidated vessel.
Patrick said he expected that work will start by early fall. He didn't know how long it will take RCW to do salvage operations and eventually get rid of the vessel, which he said is actually two barges welded together.
Patrick said he was hopeful the vessel will be "gone sooner than later."
He represents a group of investors suing Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey, who floated the barge to the city from Pittsburgh in 2009.
Under RCW's removal plan, it will savage and and sell what it can from the barge and pay the bankruptcy estate $50,000, excluding $10,000 of its own disposal costs. Then, the following $50,000 will go to RCW. Proceeds over $100,000 will be split between RCW and the estate, Patrick said.
David Fulton, an attorney for Casey company River City Resort, said he approved of the removal plan.
But an adjacent property owner said at the Thursday hearing that he also had a plan to remove the barge in connection with a proposal to buy most of the rest of the property to which it's moored.
Jackson Wingfield said he offered about $3.4 million for some 4.5 acres and the barge. He said he planned to have the barge towed to a "barge graveyard" in Kentucky for about $200,000.
Wingfield was critical of plans to dismantle the barge at its existing site, saying it will create "a terrible mess" and take a considerable amount of time.
Wingfield said he foresaw the property eventually developed into a mixed-use site, including high-end apartments.
The attorneys and the judge moved ahead with the RCW plan. Patrick said he had hoped Wingfield's offer was higher.
About six acres was earlier put on the market for $11.2 million.
Casey, who had developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo into one of Tennessee's top tourist attractions more than four decades ago, had proposed a floating bar and restaurant, but it was never built. In addition, Casey had proposed condominium and a hotel on land that sits off Manufacturers Road.
Earlier this year, Casey and one of his companies filed bankruptcy petitions. They faced a civil trial over a lawsuit brought by a group of investors who claimed they were defrauded relating to a portion of an 11-acre tract adjacent to the barge. Casey has denied the allegations.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.