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Legal Issues Cleared As Vandenberg Moves To Shipyard For Final Cleanup Before Sinking Off Key West

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NORFOLK, Virginia -- After an almost nine-month stall, a Key West artificial reef project is back on course, after tugboats shifted the 524-foot Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg 1/8-mile from Colonna's Shipyard to W3 Marine Friday morning.

The former missile tracking ship will be evaluated and final cleanup will likely commence next week, so it can be towed to Key West for a planned scuttling in the late spring of this year, according to Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge, the designated project manager.

"We haven't been on the ship since April, when the Federal judge seized the ship," Verge said. "We need to evaluate any changes that have occurred in the last nine months."

But Verge was clearly delighted the project was back on track.

"Today is significant because the move clearly demonstrates the legal issues surrounding the project have been cleared up," said Verge, adding that the ship's title was transferred to the city earlier this week. "We're beginning the final process to bring Vandenberg to Key West."

Verge emphasized that funding is in place and praised W3 Marine owner Joe Woodington for his willingness to cooperate and assist in the completion of the project.

Verge expects final work in Norfolk to take about five weeks. Following necessary inspections and contingent on weather conditions, the ship is to be towed to Key West. Once in Key West, further work is to be accomplished to prepare it for sinking and recreational diving.

A federal judge seized the vessel in April and subsequently ordered the auction of the ship after a contractor failed to complete payments to Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., for cleanup of the vessel. In December, First State Bank of the Florida Keys was the ship's top bidder at $1.35 million.

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