Barge recovery at Falls of the Ohio nearing completion

The Evening News and The Tribune

March 27– Mar. 27–CLARKSVILLE — Two barges remain trapped at the McAlpine Lock more than three months after a tow line crashed, but officials say they hope to have them recovered within a week, pending favorable river and weather conditions. A third is next to the shore.

A tow carrying 15 barges crashed into the Clark Memorial Bridge on Dec. 25. Six were recovered quickly with the remaining nine trapped along the McAlpine Lock and Dam. Salvage operations began Jan. 9, with crews hired by the tow line, Tennessee Valley Towing.

But high water has halted salvage operations three times since January, said Shawn Kenney, assistant operations manager for the McAlpine Locks and Dam for the Louisville district of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“They’re making good progress when they have been able to work. They’ve done very well,” Kenney said. “It’s all gone safely and we’re looking forward to getting these last two barges out of here.”

One of the biggest challenges with the two barges pinned at the dam, Kenney said, is the way they’re positioned. Not only is one pinned on top of the other, but one is also stuck in the gate, preventing its closure. This means salvage crews can’t control the water flow during salvage operations.

With the other barges, “we’ve been able to lower the gates and allow [salvage crews] to work in slack water,” he said.

Officials said in January that if the dam couldn’t be closed because of the trapped barge, water could be prevented from pooling, affecting river traffic and, ultimately, commerce.

But Kenney said Wednesday that the water going down has not been an issue because of the wet season the area has had.

“We don’t expect that becoming a problem because we expect the flows to be high enough to maintain that,” he said.

The barges were each carrying between 1,500 and 1,800 tons of coal, and Kenney reported Wednesday that as much as possible has been removed from where it remained on the barges.

However, he said he didn’t have information on how much coal had been spilled or how much remained in the area on the river bottom.

“It’s likely that any coal that’s still sitting there has been washed downstream,” he said. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, which monitors water quality in the Ohio River, previously stated via email that as of March 6, there had been no “unusual volatile organics related to the coal barge event.”

About 10 people at a time have been working to recover the barges, and Kenney said safety remains a top priority for those crew members.

“This type of work does have its hazards, but we’re looking at every type of condition, every operation … and make sure the secondary effects of that are going to be safe,” he said. “But, so far, it’s all gone well and everyone’s remained safe and we intend to keep it that way.”

A representative from the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley said Wednesday the cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.