Tenn-Tom Allision Sparks Déjà Vu

A barge broke away from its mooring above Tom Bevill Lock & Dam on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in the overnight hours June 11–12, floating downstream and striking the spillway at about 3 a.m. The barge is blocking one of the spillway gates, preventing Corps of Engineers lock operators from closing the gate.

Big River Shipbuilders’ salvage team has a pair of towboats and a pair of crane barges on site as of June 17 to begin salvage operations. Justin Murphree, operations project manager for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Project, said the bow of the barge is partially sheared off. If the salvage team is unable to pull the barge off the spillway intact, crew members will have to cut the bow off.

Murphree said he’s hopeful it will be a quick operation.

“I’m hoping that thing’s out by the end of the day tomorrow, if not this evening,” Murphree said June 17.

It’s the second barge breakaway and spillway strike on the Tenn-Tom in the past week. Another barge broke away from its mooring in the overnight hours June 9–10 and struck the spillway at the John C. Stennis Lock & Dam, the structure just upstream from Bevill. That barge remains in place, with the Big River Salvage crew set to go there next.

Initially, Stennis closed to navigation in order for the lock to operate in open-pass mode to make up for gates the barge was blocking. Since the allision at Bevill, the Corps has closed that lock for the opposite reason. With the gate at Bevill stuck in the open position, the Corps has closed the lock to navigation in order to help maintain pool in Bevill Lake. Stennis Lock is available to tows en route to destinations in Bevill Lake only, Murphree said. Once the barge is clear of the spillway gate at Bevill, the lock—and by extension the entire system—will again be open to navigation.

“The moment we can get that gate closed we’ll start locking vessels,” Murphree said.

Timing is everything at both locks, with a potential tropical system moving ashore late in the week and bringing rain to portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida over the weekend.