“We're cranking up the assessment phase." ”
The co-owner of a company charged with moving Allen Casey's rundown barge away from downtown Chattanooga's waterfront said Tuesday he has dealt with vessels "far worse than this."
"I've developed a love for problem-solving on the waters," said William Ladnier, with Gulfstream Enterprises of Biloxi, Miss. He said he didn't know how long it might take to remove the barge, but said "it's ASAP."
On Tuesday, after more than a week's worth of work, the half-sunken barge was lifted off the bottom of the Tennessee River with the use of powerful pumps to drain water from inside the vessel.
Ladnier said his company plans to work with Chattanoogan Harry Phillips, who coordinated the refloating effort, to determine the condition of the barge.
"We're cranking up the assessment phase," Ladnier said in a telephone interview, to develop "a game plan" to move the vessel.
Last week, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Shelley Rucker approved a loan agreement that attorneys said will help rid the barge from downtown's waterfront.
The judge agreed to a $350,000 loan plan involving a Tullahoma, Tenn., bank to pay for raising the barge and later floating it away from where it's moored across from Ross's Landing. Court papers call for Gulfstream to take ownership and for it to be paid $195,000 to remove the barge by May 15.
Ladnier said he hopes to "easily" beat that deadline. But, since the barge has been underwater for several weeks, plans are to check it out and "see what the barge will let us do."
"I don't want to push it," he said. "The barge will tell us."
The barge had been leaking water and there are fears it may have been damaged where it hit the river bottom, but Ladnier said he believes the barge is "in good shape. It's verifying what we know."
Jerrold Farinash, trustee in the bankruptcy court case involving the barge, said the water level of the river may have to drop before divers can make an assessment.
He said Gulfstream officials, who were in the city Tuesday, will have to provide information to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard before the vessel can be moved.
Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Company, said she plans to talk with city officials about what can be done to better protect the river in the future.
"We need more rules and regulations," she said, adding there may need to be some kind of "waterfront czar" to oversee the area on which there has been so much investment over the past few decades.
"I know this is one on [the mayor's] radar," White said of Mayor Andy Berke. "I'm going to put it on my list to talk to the city and see what can be done in the future."
She noted the Delta Queen riverboat languished for months on Coolidge Park's waterfront before it was sold and floated earlier this year to Louisiana, where it's to be refurbished and put back into service.
Both the Casey barge and the Delta Queen were brought to the city under Mayor Ron Littlefield's administration, the River City official said.
"This is a wake-up call," White said of the barge and riverboat situations. She said Chattanooga should have a community input process related to the river as it has done with other issues.
Casey, who three decades ago redeveloped the Chattanooga Choo Choo, brought the barge to Chattanooga in 2009 to put in a floating restaurant, but nothing was built. He filed bankruptcy about a year ago after he was sued by former investors and faced a court date.
The barge has become more dilapidated over the past year. It's moored to an 11-acre tract of vacant property on which Casey had dreamed of building condominiums, apartments and a hotel.
The bank loan to move the barge would be paid back from proceeds from the potential sale of part of that vacant 11-acre parcel. About six acres of the site earlier were put on the market for $11.2 million.
The barge sank about two weeks ago, with Farinash saying it was intentionally vandalized and swamped.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.