Oil Discharge In Jamie Whitten Lock Closes Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway At Mile 412

On the morning of September 8, the mv. Savage Voyager, part of Savage Inland Marine’s fleet of towboats, was locking through Jamie Whitten Lock at Mile 412 on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway when the hull of a tank barge the boat was pushing was compromised, triggering the release of crude oil into the lock.

The lock has been closed ever since, and the Coast Guard has imposed a waterway closure between Mile 410 and Mile 414 while the Unified Command oversees cleanup efforts. The damaged cargo tank on the barge had an estimated capacity of 321,000 gallons of crude oil, and the Coast Guard estimates about 117,000 gallons was released into the lock. The remaining product was safely pumped out of the barge.

The released crude oil, along with the vessel and barge, are contained within the lock, and cleanup contractor E3 Environmental has placed 40 feet of boom around the dam as a precaution. Other agencies involved in the cleanup include Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley, Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Nashville, Coast Guard National Strike Force, the National Transportation Safety Board, T&T Salvage, Savage Inland Marine, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Environmental Management Agency, National Response Corporation and the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health.

In all, the Unified Command has mobilized five vacuum trucks, seven skimmers and a crew of more than 75 to conduct oil recovery operations around the clock. Unified Command officials said it’s a two-stage process to reopen the lock. The first step is to remove the oil from the water. That step is, by all accounts, ahead of schedule.

“It’s going better than we thought it would, and we’re moving along pretty well,” the Corps’ Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway Project Manager Justin Murphree said during a September 11 industry conference call.

The second phase will be to clean the lock and vessels themselves. There are some unknown factors surrounding phase 2 of the cleanup, so the Corps and Coast Guard have not offered specific estimates on how long the closure could last.

“We really won’t know that process until we start it,” Murphree said.

Some downstream stakeholders have expressed concern regarding maintaining water levels below the lock due to the fact there is no spillway at Jamie Whitten Lock. Murphree, though, said the lock features a 48-inch bypass that runs through the dam.

“We are able to release water from the upper pool to the lower pool through that bypass,” he said. “We will not have water problems downstream.”

This is the latest hurdle in what’s been a challenging year for navigation on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Historic flooding on the waterway in February deposited an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of sediment in the waterway at Aberdeen Lock and Dam alone. Other problem spots developed along the waterway as well. The Corps and its dredge contractor, Mike Hooks, cleared a pilot channel as Aberdeen Lock on May 21, with further dredge work continuing.