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The abandoned restaurant barge known as the Casey barge slowly sinks in this March 24, 2015, photo.

Divers have discovered holes in the partly sunken barge across from Ross's Landing that will need patching before pumping begins to raise the vessel, the project's coordinator says.

"We're hopeful of having everything secure and ready to begin pumping early [this] week," said Harry Phillips, a Chattanooga businessman overseeing the refloating of Allen Casey's rundown barge.

The vessel suddenly sank about four feet early last week, with a charge made that it was intentionally swamped by vandals. Jerrold Farinash, trustee in a bankruptcy court case involving the barge, said someone moved a hose pumping water off the barge so that it would run into the vessel.

Another potential issue, Phillips said, is that one end of the barge is sitting on the river bottom and workers will need to refloat it to examine that side and see if there are additional problems.

He noted that the last time the barge sank in late 2011, it took workmen about six weeks to raise it. Phillips doesn't believe it will take that long this time.

He said two of the current crew from a local firm, Underwater Construction Specialists, were on the job three years ago when the barge was refloated.

"We want to make sure it's safe and the patches are OK," Phillips said. "When it does float, then it can move into the next phase."

Plans are for a Biloxi, Miss., firm, Gulf Stream Enterprises, to move the barge from its location if a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge gives approval at a hearing on Wednesday. Court papers call for Gulf Stream to take ownership and for it to be paid $195,000 to remove the barge by May 15.

Phillips said three concrete working platforms were being moved into place to conduct the refloating operation. Also, steel cable from the shore to the barge was to be added to better secure the vessel, he said.

"Divers had concerns about the mooring," the project coordinator said.

He said six to eight pumps will expel the water when that work starts.

Phillips said the top part of an existing structure on the barge won't have to be dismantled before it's moved.

"The mayor doesn't want that," he said. After the barge sank last week, Mayor Andy Berke convened a meeting of about a half dozen agencies to try to speed the raising of the barge.

The barge is part of a bankruptcy case involving Casey and one of his companies, River City Resort. Casey brought the barge to Chattanooga from Pittsburgh in 2009 with plans to set up a floating restaurant. But the eatery never opened and the barge foundered.

Its condition has deteriorated, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was in violation of its permit, and its appearance has been a lightning rod of criticism.

Farinash said in court papers he's seeking approval for a $350,000 loan from Southern Community Bank to pay for removal and other costs.

The bank loan would be paid back from proceeds from the potential sale of part of a vacant 11-acre parcel to which the barge is moored. About six acres of the site was earlier put on the market for $11.2 million.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

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