Barge Breaks Away On Tenn-Tom, Strikes Spillway At Stennis

A barge loaded with 1,600 tons of rock salt broke away from its mooring at the Port of Clay County near West Point, Miss., on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway overnight June 9–10. The barge floated downriver on the Tenn-Tom, swollen from recent rains, and struck the spillway at the John C. Stennis Lock & Dam, blocking three of the five spillway gates.

“Last night at approximately midnight we had a hopper barge get loose above Stennis Lock,” Justin Murphree, operations project manager for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, said on a June 10 call with waterway stakeholders.

The barge struck gate two at the five-gate spillway, Murphree said, “then flattened out across three and four.” The barge sank about 2 a.m.

“It’s surely constricting the flow to gates three and four and part of gate two,” Murphree said. “Gate two is operating but damaged.”

As a result, the Mobile Engineer District’s Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Project Management Office closed the lock to navigation later that morning, Murphree said. The closure was not due to any damage to the lock from the barge. Rather, the Corps was operating the lock as a spillway bypass to help pass flood waters in the waterway.

Much of the upper portions of the Tenn-Tom’s drainage basin has received as much as 15 inches of rain over the past month.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of rain, so it’s going to take a few days to reach high water and to see water levels begin to come down,” said Mitch Mays, administrator of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority.

With the barge still constricting flows at Stennis, the headwater at the lock was continuing to rise at midday June 10. Murphree said it was rising at a rate of about two- to three-tenths of a foot per hour. According to the gage at Stennis, the water level above the lock spiked from 63.5 feet on June 9 to nearly 66 feet early in the day June 10 and continued to rise.

Weather forecasters expected the waterway at Aberdeen Lock & Dam, upriver from Stennis, to crest sometime over the weekend.

“Usually when Aberdeen levels out, it’s another 24 hours before Stennis levels out,” Murphree said.

Representatives from the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey were still working on forecasts for when water will drop far enough for the lock to resume passing vessels.

“This won’t be an extended closure for navigation traffic,” Murphree said.

Murphree added that a surveyor has been onsite, but that salvage efforts will likely depend on water levels dropping to the point the barge is out of the water.