Seventh of nine barges trapped at dam has sunk

The Evening News and The Tribune

Jan. 02–CLARKSVILLE — The seventh of nine barges trapped at the McAlpine Dam on the Ohio River between Louisville and Clark County has sunk, and officials point to the rise in river levels as the cause.

A tug vessel pushing 15 barges struck the Clark Memorial Bridge on Dec. 25, cutting the barges loose. Six were moored and retrieved within a few days, while nine were trapped against the dam.

Since then, seven of the coal-carrying barges have sunk, according to a news release issued Wednesday by the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley, which, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the tow line company, Tennessee Valley Towing, has been investigating and overseeing cleanup.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the river rose about three feet, which contributed to the seventh barge sinking, said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Metz of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“It changes things every day, it’s just something that we have to reconsider and recalibrate every single day to ensure that whoever is out there assessing or working remains safe,” he said in an interview Wednesday. The tow line, Tennessee Valley Towing, has retained two salvage companies which were expected to arrive by this evening.

However due to the ever-changing river conditions, Metz can’t say for certain how long the salvage operations might take.

“That’s really difficult to predict because it’s such a dynamic environment,” he said.

The 15 barges were each carrying between 1,500 and 1,800 tons of coal when the line hit the bridge. Metz said Friday, after the fourth barge had sunk, that the Coast Guard was keeping in contact with Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and that the coal spilled into the river does not present a concern. He said Wednesday that’s still the case.

Another concern has been that one of the barges is trapped under a gate at the lock and dam. Officials said Friday that could impede river traffic if it’s still there when the water level drops. It remained an issue Wednesday, but Metz said the most important thing is to make sure the crews working on the salvage and investigation remain safe.

“It’s still the same problem,” he said. “It needs to be removed, but it’s more important that the people who are working on this site can do so in a safe manner.

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.