Sunken barge remains in Urbanna Creek; owner faces up to $10,000 per day fine
by Larry Chowning
Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) officials have filed papers with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to have the sunken barge in Urbanna Creek removed, and to possibly establish a fine of up to $10,000 a day on the barge owner until the barge is off the creek bottom.
VMRC commissioner John Bull said the deadline for barge owner Raymond (Ray) E. Watson Jr. of Mechanicsville to remove the barge was March 28. “I promptly sent a letter to the Attorney General’s Office asking for legal proceedings to be initiated in an enforcement action to compel the removal of the barge for non-compliance. It will be up to the judge, but the fine could be up to $10,000 a day.”
Bull said the Attorney General’s Office received the VMRC letter on Friday and is now in the process of drafting legal papers. Bull said he does not know how long this will take and in what jurisdiction the papers will be filed. He said this will be determined by the judge who will handle the case.
On February 25, VMRC ordered Watson to have the barge professionally marked as an obstruction and hazard within seven days and remove the barge within 30 days. Watson marked the barge within the seven-day requirement.
On March 18, a 100-ton capacity crane attempted to lift the 50-ton barge off the creek bottom but was unable to budge it. Watson, who was at the site on Urbanna Yachting Center property on that day, said the barge was stuck in the mud and the company he had hired to remove it would have to have its engineers work on a solution to the problem.
The barge has been sunk on the bottom of Urbanna Creek since April 2012. The ownership of the barge was determined in an October 21, 2013 trial in Middlesex General District Court. At that trial, a judge ruled that 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.
Watson has contended throughout the process the now defunct Potomac Timber Investment #227 LLC owned the barge and he purchased it as an agent of the LLC. However, he had agreed at an earlier VMRC meeting to remove the barge by February 24, 2014.
It appears that the “mud and water” of Urbanna Creek that is inside the barge has made its removal more difficult and more expensive, said Bull.