No one claims raft of debris left on Tennessee River in Chattanooga

No one claims raft of debris left on Tennessee River in Chattanooga

June 7th, 2013 by Mike Pare and Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

A dock littered with debris rests against the bank of the Tennessee River on Wednesday after breaking off from a rundown river barge owned by Allen Casey across from Ross's Landing. The broken dock was noticed by members of the Tennessee River Rescue group.

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

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A small raft, piled high with debris and scrap metal, bobs precariously on the bank of the Tennessee River, about half a mile downstream from the Delta Queen, partially hidden by the dense foliage growing close to the water.

Davis Joiner, who owns the small pontoon boat "Tah Dah!", discovered the raft while out boating with friends on Tuesday night.

Joiner believes the raft drifted down from Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey's rundown barge, floating just across from the Tennessee Aquarium.

Joiner and a group of friends, who volunteer with the Tennessee River Rescue, patrol the waters for garbage every Tuesday night. They've been doing it for almost six years now.

"First we found these huge pieces of Styrofoam floating in the water," Joiner said. "We hauled those out, wondering where they came from, and then we found this."

The raft now rests on the edge of the bank, carrying what Joiner thinks is the metal guts of the old would-be restaurant Casey toted down from Pittsburgh in 2009. Metal cabinets, wire and what appears to be broken bits of patio furniture are piled almost three feet high on the raft. Several weeks ago, Casey hired a crew to clean up the barge after the U.S. Corps of Engineers said in April that the structure isn't complying with its permit.

Casey said Wednesday the raft could have come from somewhere else along the river. He said he has loaned similar rafts to the Delta Queen.

But Joiner doesn't buy it.

"You can go north from where it came from and there's nowhere else it could have come from," he said. "We've watched them pile this stuff up there for years. It's obvious where it came from."

Casey later said a raft of scrap metal from his barge intended for a recycling center downstream has been temporarily tied to the river bank because the center couldn't immediately take the materials. That's what Joiner may have found, he said.

"We couldn't get it in there right away," Casey said, noting that his personnel were told it might take a couple of days before the center could accept the scrap.

Kim White

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Casey said he planned to follow up to see if the raft Joiner found is related to his barge cleanup. He said on Thursday that he had spoken with a PSC Metals employee about unloading the raft's load.

But Van Dick, the plant manager for PSC Metals, the scrap metal center just up the river from the raft, said Casey's claims were "completely untrue."

He said he's been working with Casey since February to buy the metal.

"We've given them multiple opportunities to unload, but there's always a reason they can't," he said.

Dick said typically the company doesn't accept shipments without a contract and pre-set prices.

"There's no contract whatsoever," he said. "We have no contract with them and we have no pricing with them."

Casey, meanwhile, disputed Dick's claim, and said he still plans to recycle the metal on the raft.

Joiner and the group did what they could Tuesday night to clean up the bits that had fallen off, but were concerned about the rest of it.

"Somebody needs to take responsibility and get that cleaned up," he said. "We'd hate to see these pieces get loose and get in the river."

Kim White, president of the River City Company, was concerned that the raft and barge pose a threat to other boaters -- especially with the Riverbend Music Festival hitting town this week.

"It's a danger to all the other barges that are out there," she said. "The bad thing is, somebody could get hurt."

The barge's dilapidated state and prominent location on the river has drawn the ire of both city and federal officials, but to little avail. The barge still floats complacently in the water, its empty windows and peeling boards grinning at the revitalized Chattanooga water front on the opposite bank.

Casey, who made a name for himself with the successful development of the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago, has said he wants to put a floating restaurant on the barge. He said he's in negotiations for project financing, but wouldn't give details.

Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at lburkholder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.