Last-Minute Save Protected Bridge From Runaway Barge

On the night of March 8, a team at Tate & Lyle’s corn wet mill in Loudon, Tenn., received a call from the local Coast Guard unit informing them that a barge had broken free on the Tennessee River from a neighboring dock upstream, according to foreman Robert “Bo” Robinson, a foreman at Tate & Lyle Loudon Barge (WJ, March 18). Tate & Lyle is a local subsidiary of a British-based global food-refining business that is part of the Dupont family of companies.

As the barge, reportedly loaded with iron ore, made its way downriver, the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office and Tennessee Highway Patrol stopped both directions of road traffic across I-75 in Loudon County near the Tennessee River bridge for an hour as a precaution.

“As soon as I got the message,” said Robinson, “I told our deckhand to make our boat ready. Our boat was the only one in the area close enough to secure the barge at that time, and there was no question in my mind as to whether we would help stop it.”

“Although the crew and our boat were never at risk, the unmanned barge was heavy and moving quickly,” said Robinson “The fact that it was heavily loaded made it a little tricky to recover. We needed to push the barge into the riverbank to stop its momentum. Once it had stopped, we attached the barge, then started back upriver. It was hard work pushing the barge against the current to Tate & Lyle’s Loudon dock. We made it back to our dock just after 2 a.m.”

After it had traveled about 15 miles downriver, the barge was stopped approximately 600 yards from colliding with the I-75  bridge. Three broken cables were visible on it. Fortunately, the only reported damage as the loose barge careened downriver was to at least one recreational boat dock in Loudon County.

The name of the responsible party has still not been released as the parties sort out liability. Authorities said this runaway barge incident was the first time something like that has happened at the Fort Loudoun Terminal, which is operated by an agricultural cooperative.

Robinson said he was glad to be at the right place and time.

“I’ve worked at Tate & Lyle for 32 years and worked the river all that time. Although I haven’t seen this type of incident in several decades, it’s part of the job to be a ‘minuteman’, ready to take action at a moment’s notice. Safety is one of our core values, and when you work on the river you’re obligated to help out where you can. In this case, we did everything we could to make sure no one got hurt and there was no damage to the Interstate bridge. I’m pleased we were able to help.”

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