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Sunken barge is removed from Urbanna Creek

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Precon Marine Inc. of Chesapeake removed a sunken 50-ton barge from Urbanna Creek on Friday and Saturday, May 2-3. The firm used a 250-ton barge/crane, a tugboat, approximately 15 workers and a diver to bring the steel-hull barge to the surface. Throughout the process, town and county citizens gathered along the shore at Urbanna Yachting Center to watch the tedious process. (Photo byTom Chillemi)

by Larry Chowning

You could sense a sigh of relief from folks standing along the Urbanna Creek shore on Friday as Precon Marine Inc. of Chesapeake worked to remove a sunken 50-ton steel barge that had been on the bottom of the creek since April 2012.

The sunken barge was a hazard to boaters, and its location had been marked on the water’s surface to alert boaters to avoid that area of the creek.

The removal of the barge most likely marks the end to a long confrontation between the Town of Urbanna, Raymond (Ray) E. Watson Jr. of Mechanicsville, and the now defunct Potomac Timber LLC. The firm filed for bankruptcy on June 27, 2013.

The sunken barge was a scar left over from legal haggling that started about seven years ago. Potomac Timber LLC and Watson purchased Urbanna Yachting Center in January 2007 for $2.9 million. They wanted to build a three-story,16-unit condominium complex on the land next to the marina at the foot of Watling Street.

After first approving a site plan for the project, the Urbanna Town Council changed its mind under heavy pressure from many town residents and revoked the site plan. In response, in June 2008 Potomac Timber and Watson filed a $4.5 million lawsuit against the town for denying the site plan. They contended it was illegal for the town to revoke the site plan after initially approving it.

The legal haggling over the project continued until Potomac Timber withdrew its lawsuit in July 2011.

Potomac Timber and Watson also planned to start an oyster aquaculture business at the site and they put a 50-ton steel barge next to the marina to use in the business.

When the barge sank in 2012, Watson contended he did not own the barge and it was the property of the defunct Potomac Timber LLC. The ownership of the barge was determined to be Watson’s in an October 21, 2013 trial in Middlesex County District Court. At that trial, a judge ruled Watson owned the barge and imposed the maximum fine of $500, plus $81 in court costs, but did not order Watson to remove the barge. 

In February 2014, Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) ordered Watson to remove the barge by March 28 or face legal action and a possible $10,000 a day fine. Watson attempted to remove the barge by the deadline, but the firm he initially hired was unable to raise it.

After the deadline passed and the barge was still on the bottom of the creek, VMRC filed legal action against Watson through the Virginia State Attorney General’s Office in Richmond. However, Watson informed VMRC that he had employed Precon Construction Company of Chesapeake to raise and remove the barge, and produced a signed contract with the firm. VMRC then decided to hold off any legal action until the firm had a chance to raise the barge.

On Monday, VMRC Commissioner John Bull said he and others are “delighted” that the barge has finally been removed and VMRC will not pursue any further legal action against Watson. “All we wanted from the very beginning was to see the barge removed by its rightful owner,” he said.

posted 05.07.2014

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