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USS Hoyt Vandenberg's Sinking Off Key West, Florida, Delayed; $1.6M In Unanticipated Cost Overruns

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KEY WEST, Florida -- Artificial reef project organizers coordinating the cleanup and sinking of a former United States Air Force missile tracking ship off Key West, Fla., announced a postponement of the scheduled scuttling date Tuesday.

The 524-foot Hoyt S. Vandenberg will not sink May 15 as originally hoped for, said Joe Weatherby of Reefmakers. A new date will be announced in the future, Weatherby said.

"We know many people are planning to travel to Key West for the sinking," Weatherby said. "We want to ensure they understand the ship will not sink May 15."

Although most of the cleanup has been completed, unanticipated cost overruns are keeping the ship in a Norfolk, Va., shipyard until the yard bill can be satisfied. The yard filed a federal maritime lien on the ship to ensure payment is made on the remaining balance of $1.6 million.

Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge said he, the city attorney and city manager have actively been engaged in discussions with shipyard management and local, state and federal officials as well as lending institutions endeavoring to arrange a financial solution.

"Right now everyone is trying to work towards the goal of sinking this ship off Key West," said Verge. "No one wants to see the ship sent to the scrap yard."

Weatherby blamed skyrocketing fuel costs and unanticipated cleanup challenges as reasons why the project, originally estimated at $5.7 million, now requires another $2.3 million.

The cleanup has been intensive. Begun a year ago, more than 50,000 man-hours of work have been invested to rid the vessel of all environmental hazards. That meant removing paint, stripping out 900,000 feet of wiring potentially containing toxic PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) used in insulation before the carcinogen was banned, and off-loading any remaining waste petroleum products.

The end result, project officials say, will be a diversified shipwreck that should appeal to divers of all skill levels and provide benefits to the environment and economy.

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