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To Satisfy Shipyard Lien, Florida State Agency To Commit $1.6 Million To Sink Vandenberg Artificial Reef

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NOTTINGHAM, U.K. -- The State of Florida is poised to contribute up to $1.6 million to satisfy a shipyard lien so a 524-foot decommissioned Air Force missile tracking vessel can be scuttled as an artificial reef off the Florida Keys, Key West officials said Tuesday.

The money to complete the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg project is to come from an Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development grant.

But a contract between the state and the city has to be executed and additional details are pending.

A federal judge recently ordered the auction of the ship after a contractor failed to pay Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., for cleanup of the vessel.

Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge said efforts are being facilitated between the city, Florida and lending institution officials to persuade the judge to stay the auction while a settlement is reached.

"This has been an incredible effort (to get state funds)," said Key West Mayor Morgan McPherson. "We have to thank (Florida) Gov. (Charlie) Crist and OTTED for coming through during tough economic times."

Verge predicted the Vandenberg would be towed from Colonna's Shipyard in Norfolk, to Key West in December with a scuttling to take place in February 2009.

Estimated costs to intentionally sink the Vandenberg about six miles south of Key West have swelled to more than $8.2 million, almost $2.5 million more than was estimated when the ship was towed from the James River Naval Reserve fleet to Colonna's Shipyard in April 2007.

Originally, project officials had anticipated sinking the Vandenberg in late May, but ran out of cash because unanticipated cleanup challenges required more fiscal resources.

"The $1.6 million from OTTED will complete the funding requirements," Verge said. "Given that the cleanup of the ship is 99 percent finished, it's gratifying that we will be reaping the fruits of so much time and effort that has been invested,"

Other stakeholders in the project include Monroe County, Fla., the Florida Keys & Key West tourism council and the U.S. Maritime Administration. The project also has a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Together, those governmental agencies had allocated almost $6.7 million, but almost all funds cannot be released until the ship is on the ocean floor.

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