Boats & Barges

Shoaling Causes Groundings At Ohio Mile 926

The U.S. Coast Guard recommended that industry partners lower their draft in the Ohio River below Smithland, Ky., after at least three groundings at Ohio River Mile 926, known locally as Cumberland Bar.

Lt. John Nolan, U.S. Coast Guard spokesman for Marine Safety Unit Paducah, said a vessel was pushing hopper barges loaded with rock when the lead barge ran aground, doing no damage to the barges or vessel. No one was injured. The channel was blocked for about an hour before it reopened, Nolan said.

The grounding was due to shoaling in the river, which has been a problem especially as it is the typical low water season and because there has been a lack of rain, said Petty Officer Evan Dawson, water management representative for MSU Paducah. The problem area is just a few miles from the mouth of the Cumberland River at Ohio River Mile 922.8.

Third-class Petty Officer James Hague, external affairs officer for the Coast Guard’s Eighth District, identified the tow of 12 barges that briefly blocked the channel as being pushed by the mv. St. Simon and noted that the grounding was reported to the Coast Guard at 1:15 p.m. June 15. The St. Simon is a 2,000 hp. twin-screw boat operated by Marquette Transportation Company, according to the 2022 Inland River Record. Additionally, Hague had information that two other groundings had taken place at Mile 926 recently. No one was injured in either of those others, he said.

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According to Hague, the other tows that grounded were the mv. Kieffer E. Bailey, with an 11-barge tow of rock, reported to the Coast Guard at 10:35 a.m. June 15; and the mv. Cumberland Hunter, pushing a 15-barge tow of sand, reported to the Coast Guard at 9 a.m. June 20.

The Kieffer E. Bailey is also a 2,000 hp. twin-screw towboat operated by Marquette Transportation Company. The Cumberland Hunter is a 3,600 hp. twin-screw towboat owned by the Hines Furlong Line.

Recommended Draft Lowered

The Coast Guard lowered its recommended draft to 9 feet after the grounding of the St. Simon. Following additional water coming downriver from Smithland Locks and Dam at Mile 918.5 and some test tows of 9 feet and one of 10 feet on the morning of June 21, the Coast Guard released a broadcast notice to mariners recommending that tows maintain a draft of 9 feet, 6 inches when the Smithland gauge reads 12 feet, as it did June 21.

In a Notice to Navigation Interests issued the evening of June 21, the Corps said the physical buoys on the main navigation channel have been moved toward the left descending bank.

“Mariners should make note of conditions and exercise caution when transiting the area,” the notice said.

The Coast Guard has established a secondary navigation channel on the right descending bank from Mile 924 to Mile 927 with one-way traffic through the area, Dawson said. The secondary channel is on the Illinois side, which is the other side of what the Coast Guard refers to as Cottonwood Bar. The secondary channel is marked with both physical buoys and AIS electronic buoys.

Nolan noted that the forecast calls for a general downtrend in water levels in the area, in part because of a continued lack of rain.

“Unless we have some significant rain north of the Smithland Lock, it is unlikely that this is going to be relieved any time soon,” he said.

Katelyn Newton, spokeswoman for the Louisville Engineer District, noted that the Corps is taking additional steps to support industry and facilitate getting higher-draft tows through the area. She added that the Corps and navigation industry have been working together to survey the current channel conditions, move buoy lines, broadcast electronic buoys and mark alternative channels to keep navigation moving.