May 5, 2006
By Mike Rutledge
COVINGTON - Two barges that once supported an Ohio River entertainment spot, Covington Landing, accidentally became riverbed debris Wednesday in Owensboro.
"The word is that they're now at the bottom of the Ohio River," said Covington City Manager Jay Fossett. "And thank God it's in Owensboro and not Covington."
The bad-news barges had been a Covington albatross for several years, after the city bought the floating facility out of bankruptcy and had trouble selling it.
Covington Landing through the years housed several restaurants and bars, including Howl at the Moon Saloon, TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Sleepout Louie's and Yucatan Liquor Stand.
At least once, the leaking barges were a campaign issue when a city commission candidate in 2002, citing a marine surveyor's report, warned they might sink.
The barges definitely went under on Wednesday, said Jorge Whitley, 34, of Brownsville, Texas, the independent contractor who spent five months leading a crew that razed the buildings down to the barges' decks.
Around 9 p.m. Saturday, the barges began a downriver trip to Owensboro that ended 3 p.m. Monday at the Kinder Morgan Inc. harbor in Daviess Count, where barges await recycling for their steel.
During the river journey, Whitley and a crew of five staffed the barges, in addition to a five-person tow-boat crew, to head off any problems.
"The 10 pumps were running, because that's what we told the Coast Guard we would have on there to make sure we didn't sink her," he said.
Whitley said he offered to leave all 10 pumps with the barges, as long as he didn't have to continue paying the rental fee.
People at the Kinder Morgan site didn't want to take the pumps, "but they would keep two just in case," said Whitley, who said he warned them: "You can have only two, but you need to watch it."
"They said, 'Well, Jorge, we know what we're doing. ... We're professionals,'" he said.
He said he told them the barges could sink in 48 hours if not monitored, "and 43 hours later, they were at the bottom of the Ohio," he said.
The city in December sold Covington Landing facility and its six ramps for $48,500 to Midwest Steel Ventures of Bethalto, Ill., through the Internet site Govdeals.com, which received 7.5 percent of the sale price.
With the barges gone, Covington officials say that can make way for an entertainment area that can include land-based restaurants or nightclubs, a marina and a floating public boardwalk.
Officials at Kinder Morgan - which operates the harbor where the barges were located - would not talk about the sinking. "I'm sorry, we can't release any information at this time," said a woman answering phones, who declined to give her name.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, "it ceased to be my problem, so I don't think about it," Whitley said.
The barge had been his responsibility since Dec. 5, said Whitley, who was back in Covington cleaning up the site Thursday: "Yesterday was the first day I woke up with nothing to do."