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Court confirms owner must pay to have sunken barge removed

Snow flies over a sunken barge Monday in the Menomonee River in Milwaukee. A state appellate court Tuesday upheld a decision that Basil Ryan Jr. is the owner of the barge and must pay $37,691 in forfeitures. Several deadlines for removing the barge have passed. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Saying the owner of a sunken barge in Milwaukee was a “textbook example of a litigant playing fast and loose with the judicial system,” an appellate court judge Tuesday upheld more than $37,000 in environmental penalties.

The case stems from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s seizure of a riverfront property at 260 N. 12th St. The property along the Menomonee River is owned by Basil Ryan Jr.

The state used eminent domain to condemn the property in March 2004. WisDOT used it as a staging area during the reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange.

The barge was in the river along the property when it was condemned in 2004, but the barge sank in 2006. Since then, it has been the subject of a battle between Ryan and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper has ordered the barge be removed, but several deadlines have come and gone. The next court date on the removal is slated for February.

Cooper also ordered Ryan deposit $100,000 with the clerk of court’s office to ensure the barge would be removed.

Ryan, in his appeal, argued Cooper ruled before Ryan could argue he does not own the barge. At one point during the lawsuit, Ryan argued the state bought the barge when it condemned his property. He later argued he was storing the barge for another man. Ryan, at another point, testified he owns the barge.

The First District Court of Appeals found there was ample evidence Ryan owns the barge and affirmed Cooper’s 2009 order that Ryan pay $37,691 in forfeitures because the sunken barge is a violation of environmental regulations.

The state paid Ryan $1.35 million for his property. That amount has been appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because the award was depreciated based on contamination of the property, which Ryan used to store cars for his towing business.

— Marie Rohde

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