Webbers Falls Barge Recovery Efforts Underway

Efforts to cut up and remove two barges that sank and lodged against Webbers Falls dam in My are still in early days, and no one can yet say when they will be complete or navigation will be restored. The barges are interfering with the operation of three dam gates.

Preston Chasteen, deputy chief of public affairs for the Tulsa Engineer District, told The Waterways Journal that the Corps is lowering water levels to allow salvage crews to assess the position of the barges and determine next steps. “It’s a fluid situation,” he said.

The removal effort is being overseen by Bruce Oakley and its contractor, J.O. Smith of Vicksburg, Miss. The plan is to cut up and remove the barges on site. A special piece of heavy equipment called a shearer, usually used on offshore oil rigs, has been brought in for that purpose.

Dennis Oakley, president of Bruce Oakley, said, “Everything is in place” while crews wait for the water level to fall. Navigation has been halted while the removal effort is in progress.

Upstream, clamshell dredges carved a new channel out of silted-in riverbed at Mile 222 near Dardanelle, Ark, which saw heavy flooding this spring.

Even after channels are fully restored, the backlog of barges waiting to be moved, both empties and those carrying soybeans, could cause delays. Although barge traffic has been running, the Coast Guard has yet to restore buoys to mark shifting channels.