NORFOLK, Virginia -- First State Bank of the Florida Keys purchased the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg at auction Wednesday, making it possible for the 524-foot decommissioned Air Force missile tracking vessel to be scuttled as an artificial reef off the Florida Keys.
Key West City Commissioner Bill Verge, a leader in the efforts to complete the long-awaited Vandenberg project, said the bank bid $1.35 million, topping other bidders including those who wanted to purchase the vessel for its scrap value or for an artificial reef in other locations.
"First State Bank stepped up to the plate to protect the interests of the county, the city and everybody involved," said Verge, who attended the auction. "They thought it was the right thing to do."
A federal judge 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. The proceedings, which lasted approximately 20 minutes, took place on the steps of the federal courthouse in Norfolk.
While the shipyard was originally owed $1.6 million, additional charges and the funds owed to other claimants brought the total debt to more than $2.2 million.
According to Verge, the $1.35 million will be placed in an escrow account and distributed to the claimants in proportion to their claims, satisfying the entire debt.
"The ship is now free and clear of all debts and obligations, and there's sufficient money to complete the project," said Verge.
Verge predicted the Vandenberg would be towed from Colonna's Shipyard to Key West in January, if weather conditions allow and Coast Guard permits are in place. The vessel's sink date has not yet been announced.
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