Locks and Dams

Sixth Barge Recovered From McAlpine Dam

A brief lowering of high water allowed salvage teams to retrieve the sixth of nine sunken barges at McAlpine Dam before the water rose again, suspending operations.

The barges were hung up at the dam on the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky., following a navigation incident on Christmas Day, which left nine barges pinned against it.

The mv. Debbie Graham, operated by Tennessee Valley Towing, was pushing 15 barges of coal on December 25 when it struck the Clark Memorial Bridge piers, causing the tow to break apart.

The Corp of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, marine surveyors and Tennessee Valley Towing are closely coordinating their salvage efforts.

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Two salvage fleets, McKinney Salvage and Heavy Lift Inc., out of Baton Rouge, La., and Big River Salvage, out of Vicksburg, Miss., brought a flat barge, two heavy-lift cranes and a dedicated crew of 10 to conduct the operations.

Using a two-phased approach, the salvage crew first focused on three barges on the fixed weir portion of the dam, closest to the Indiana shoreline. The secondary plan of action is focused on salvaging the sunken barges at the gated portion of the dam—including one in the bay of tainter gate five.

The fleet began by transloading, or lightering, the coal with a clamshell from the barges into empty hopper barges that were brought onsite.

This allowed them to successfully remove the three barges by the Indiana bank. The one furthest upriver had partially sunk and had to be raised with the crane. The two closest to the fixed weir were grounded as the river level fell, but after the weight of the coal was removed, they were pulled out without crane support. A fourth barge, in front of the dam gates, was pinned by another sunken barge and salvage crews cut the end of it off before lifting it clear of the dam with two cranes.

Crews removed a total of five barges by January 22, when work was temporarily suspended due to high river levels. Work resumed briefly in early February and the sixth barge was removed from the gated portion of the dam before the Ohio River’s water level rose quickly, suspending operations once again.

Shawn Kenney, Louisville District assistant operations manager for locks and dams, said it was uncertain when operations could resume since river levels are forecasted to remain high for some time.