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State wins fight over ship sunk off WNY

A historic ship that lies deep beneath the waves of Lake Erie is the property of New York's state government, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Ratifying a recommendation given last year by a magistrate judge, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara ruled against a private company that wants to raise the ship and put it on display on Buffalo's waterfront.

The two-masted ship, which historians believe may have been used by the British during the War of 1812, is sunk in a deep pocket of the lake about 20 miles off the coast of Dunkirk.

Historians believe the ship may also have been used in the 1800s as part of the Underground Railroad, transporting escaped slaves from the United States to Canada. It sank more than 150 years ago.

"In sum, the passage of over 150 years since the sinking of the vessel, along with the absence of any effort to locate or salvage the vessel by the owners or their decedents demonstrates an intent to abandon [the ship]," Arcara wrote in a 12-page decision.

A legal fight over plans by a private firm, Northeast Research, to raise the ship has been waged in federal court since 2004. While Northeast Research wants to put the ship on public display, historic preservation officials in state government prefer to leave it where it is.

Arcara's decision ratifies a "report and recommendation" that was issued in the case last year by Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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