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Google barge, built in New London, to be scrapped

By TOM BELL, Portland Press Herald

Publication: theday.com

Published August 01. 2014 9:50AM   Updated August 02. 2014 12:11AM

The so-called Google barge, once envisioned as a floating showroom for Google Glass and other high-tech gadgets, is heading for a less glamorous future now that the structure on top of it is destined for the scrap yard.

It’s a pitiful end for a great mystery that generated national attention when the strange-looking barge was towed into Portland Harbor in Maine last October.

The barge carries 63 shipping containers arranged to create a four-story building. The structure was assembled in New London, and the barge was towed to Portland, where Cianbro Corp. was scheduled to do interior work on it, including the installation of undisclosed technology equipment.

Cianbro has never disclosed the identity of the barge’s owner or its purpose. A similar mystery barge appeared on the waterfront in San Francisco last year. After some digging by reporters on both coasts, Google admitted that it had commissioned the barges to serve as “an interactive space where people can learn about new technology.”

When finished, the barge in Portland was to be towed to New York City and opened for an invitation-only crowd of hip and affluent urbanites.

Never mind.

On Wednesday, a tugboat towed the barge from Rickers Wharf Marine Facility in Portland and deposited it at Turner’s Island Cargo Terminal in South Portland. Roger Hale, owner of the terminal, said the structure had been purchased by an unnamed “international barging company” and was being prepared to leave Portland for an ocean voyage to an undisclosed location.

The containers, though, will be disassembled at Turner’s Island and scrapped, said Lance Hanna, deputy harbor master for Portland Harbor.

Cianbro never did much work on the barge, which had become a fixture on the waterfront.

Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, said the Google barge has been good for Portland’s image because it linked Portland with San Francisco and high-tech innovation. A glorious departure after a successful Cianbro overhaul would have been nice, she said.

When told that the structure on the barge is heading to a scrap yard, she sounded deflated.

“Bummer,” she said. “I was hoping for something to come from this. Everybody was waiting to see what was actually going on.”

Still, the city made out financially, collecting $400,000 in property taxes on the barge while it sat in the harbor.

It’s unclear why Google abandoned the project. The company did not reply to an email inquiry sent to its press office Thursday.

The 250-foot barge, registration number “BAL 0011,” has some real value. It would cost $4 million new, according to C&C Marine in Belle Chasse, La., which built both barges in 2011.

The building on the barge would have been expensive to assemble, said Chad Walton, owner of SnapSpace Solutions Inc. in Brewer, which converts shipping containers into modular buildings.

It’s hard to imagine selling it all for scrap, Walton said.

“It must have cost a fortune to put together a thing like that,” he said.

Meanwhile, the container in California, which in March was towed from San Francisco to Stockton, remains untouched, according to port director Richard Aschieris. He said By And Large LLC, the company that owns the barge and until recently owned the barge in Portland, is paid up on its $10,000 monthly dock fees through October.

tbell@pressherald.com

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