High water forces Missouri riverboat dismantling

Sunday, July 10, 2011

ST. LOUIS -- The old Admiral, once a storied part of the St. Louis riverfront, is headed for the scrap yard, but it'll have to be decapitated first.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that persistent high water on the Mississippi River has prohibited the owners of the riverboat from moving it from either of two nearby scrap yards. Removing the top of the boat provides 10 feet of added clearance, which should allow the Admiral to pass beneath bridges and other structures.

"The river is not dropping," said Bill Kline, spokesman for the boats' owner, St. Louis Marine. "The other choice is to lower the height of the boat."

The hull of the Admiral dates to 1907. For years it provided river cruises, then an entertainment center, then finally home to the President casino. It closed as a casino last year.

The boat was sold to St. Louis Marine, which tried to sell it online but rejected all offers as too low.

Now, the plan is to scrap the boat for its steel, wiring and other recyclable material. The Admiral will be scrapped in either a yard south of St. Louis, or one in nearby Alton, Ill.

The Mississippi at St. Louis has been above flood stage since April 23, except for a brief time in May.

The water is so high the Admiral can't slip below the Eads bridge to the south or clear the overhead deck at the Melvin Price Lock and Dam near Alton.

So workers began removing the original pilot house and rooftop air conditioning equipment, then the deck.

Workers taking apart the top deck are storing recyclable material on lower decks for unloading later at a scrap yard. The deck most recently contained the President's kitchens, a buffet area and a poker room. Kline said the deck should be gone within two weeks.

Also stalled by the high water is the theater barge attached to the Admiral. Jeffersonville, Ind., paid Pinnacle $370,000 for the barge and plans to renovate it as a floating theater on the Ohio River near downtown Louisville, Ky., Jeffersonville's economic development director has said.

Larry Thomas, spokesman for Jeffersonville, said the delay in getting the barge means the vessel will probably not be in service until the middle of next summer's tourist season.

Kline said the Mississippi's water level and currents will determine when the Admiral will depart St. Louis for the last time.

"We hate to have a plan," he said, "because the river always stymies anything you call a plan."

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