Jamie Whitten Lock Open Again Following Oil Discharge

Jamie Whitten Lock at Mile 412 on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) reopened to commercial navigation around 11:30 p.m. September 25 after an incident 2-1/2 weeks earlier led to the release of crude oil into the lock chamber.

Early in the day September 8, the mv. Savage Voyager was locking through with a pair of tank barges when the hull of one of the barges was compromised, triggering the release of an estimated 117,000 gallons of crude oil inside the lock. When the damage occurred, the locking process was stopped, sealing the vessel, barges and oil inside the chamber. The U.S. Coast Guard imposed a closure on the waterway between Mile 410 and Mile 414 and established a unified command to direct cleanup efforts.

Cleanup contractor E3 Environmental handled cleanup efforts, which consisted of first skimming oil from the surface of the water, followed by cleaning the lock and vessels themselves. Skimming efforts wrapped up September 16, after which time the Savage Voyager and barges were moved to a containment area on the lower lock wall for final cleaning. Cleanup of the vessels was completed late September 18. E3 crews finished cleanup efforts within the lock chamber, and the lock went back into service just before midnight on September 25.

By the time Jamie Whitten Lock reopened, the queue of commercial vessels waiting to transit the lock had grown to 20—12 northbound vessels and eight southbound vessels, along with a number of recreational vessels.

In all, the closure lasted just 18 days.

The oil spill and resultant closure was just the latest challenge for operators and waterway managers on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in 2019. Historic flooding on the waterway in late February deposited so much sediment below Aberdeen Lock and Dam that a huge bar rose above the water line.

Other problem spots developed along the waterway as well. The Corps and its dredge contractor, Mike Hooks, cleared a pilot channel at Aberdeen Lock on May 21, with dredging ongoing.

All told, it’s been an unprecedented year on both the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway. Wynne Fuller, operations division chief for the Mobile Engineer District, speaking at the September 26 meeting of the board of directors of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association, praised his team on both the Tenn-Tom and the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway for their leadership this year, through floods, shoaling, an oil spill and lock closures.

“An unusual year to say the least,” Fuller said. “This was the year we brought in two new project managers, Anthony Perkins on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee and Justin Murphree on the Tenn-Tom. Those boys are forged in fire and have done commendable work.”