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VMRC orders removal of sunken barge

by Larry Chowning

Raymond (Ray) E. Watson Jr. of Mechanicsville was ordered by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on Tuesday, February 25, to remove his sunken barge from Urbanna Creek within 30 days.

The VMRC stated there is “ample” proof Watson owns the barge, which is submerged at the foot of Watling Street.

The VMRC further requested the Office of the Virginia Attorney General file for injunctive relief on day 31.  John Bull, who will become VMRC Commissioner on March 7, said if the barge is not removed by March 28, the matter will be turned over to the Office of the Attorney General and will go to court. A judge will order its removal and Watson will face fines up to $10,000 per day for not complying.

The commission also required Watson to have the barge professionally marked as an obstruction and hazard within seven days, and further requested the Office of the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief on day 8 if the barge has not been marked. The location of the sunken barge was marked on February 27.

The 90-foot metal barge has been sunk in Urbanna Creek since April 2012. It has been a long and frustrating legal journey for VMRC and town and county officials to have the barge removed.

Ownership established
Following a two-hour trial on October 21, 2013 in Middlesex General District Court, Judge Jeffrey W. Shaw ruled that Watson was the barge owner and found him guilty of a misdemeanor for not removing a hazard from state waters. Judge Shaw imposed the maximum fine of $500, plus $81 in court costs, but did not order Watson to raise the barge.

Watson purchased the barge in 2008 for $10,000. The question of who legally owned the barge had been an issue throughout the process, until Judge Shaw ruled that Watson was the owner.

A town resident asked why VMRC or the Coast Guard had not marked the barge as a hazard.

A VMRC official responded that the Coast Guard had warned VMRC staff members not to mark the barge location because if someone ran into the barge and was injured, the liability could revert to the state.

Mansfield and another speaker said VMRC and the Coast Guard should be more concerned about the safety of boaters than liability. This, in part, prompted VMRC to require Watson to mark the area of the barge within 7 days.

Saluda attorney Sydney Speight represented Town of Urbanna Attorney Andy Bury at the meeting. She said the barge was a severe safety hazard, has been there for two years, and needs to be removed.

posted 03.05.2014

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