An attorney has requested an April 1 hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to gain approval for a plan to have Casey's rundown barge removed from Chattanooga's waterfront by May 15.
Work is to start today to raise the derelict barge that partially sank across from Ross's Landing, and the vessel could be gone for good by mid-May, according to plans unveiled Wednesday.
Four pumps, two from the city's Public Works Department, one from Friends of the Festival and another secured by the trustee in a bankruptcy case related to the barge, are secured to refloat the vessel, said Lacie Stone, communications director for Mayor Andy Berke.
The pumps and other materials will be loaded on a working barge today to begin operations to expel the water from the vessel that Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey floated to the waterfront in 2009, she said.
"The working barge will be floated to the Casey barge at some point [today] to begin pumping," Stone said.
At this point, it's not known how long that effort will take, she said. But U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee Jerrold Farinash earlier put the work at a couple of days.
In court papers filed Wednesday, Farinash said plans are to pay a Mississippi company, Gulf Stream Enterprises, $195,000 to remove the barge by May 15.
Gulf Stream also won't conduct any on-site demolition, and it will take ownership of the barge "where is, as is" prior to moving it, the filing said.
Payment to Gulf Stream, which Farinash has described as a marine salvage business, will be wired to the company "immediately upon confirmation that the barge has cleared the navigational lock of Nickajack Dam...," court papers said. If the barge hasn't been removed to that point by May 15, Gulf Stream will pay $1,000 per day.
The bankruptcy trustee wants the bankruptcy court to approve a $350,000 loan from Southern Community Bank to pay for removal and other costs.
"The barge continues to be a hazard which needs to be eliminated immediately," Farinash said.
The bank loan to remove the barge would be paid back from proceeds from the potential sale of part of an 11-acre vacant parcel of land to which the barge is moored, attorneys have said.
Casey had proposed a restaurant and bar on the barge, but nothing ever happened. He also proposed a hotel and condominiums on the 11 acres. About six acres of the site was earlier put on the market for $11.2 million.
About a half dozen city, state and federal entities met Tuesday at Berke's urging to come up with plans to refloat the barge, which officials have termed an eyesore that has languished for years at its downtown waterfront site.
Farinash said it appeared that someone sabotaged the vessel earlier this week. He said a pump used to expel water from the barge was tampered with so that the vessel filled with water and partly sunk.
Chip Baker, executive director of the Friends of the Festival group that operates Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival, termed the barge "a boil that can't seem to get lanced."
He said he'd like to see the barge gone before the Riverbend Festival starts in early June.
"I just want to be done with it like everybody else," he said.
Don King, a spokesman for Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said TWRA is involved because it's responsible for recreational boating. He said the barge isn't a safety issue at this point.
Lee Roberts, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the Corps checked on the barge Wednesday and didn't notice any obvious debris that may have fallen from the vessel when it sank.
"It does not mean that zero debris floated downstream, but we have not located any in the vicinity of the barge at this time," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.