Contractors working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District install a 23-foot-tall concrete shaft enclosure weighing approximately 120,000 pounds as part of the guard wall at the Monongahela River Locks and Dam 4 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, Nov. 16, 2023.

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Salvage operations continue following barge accident

Louisville District
Published April 21, 2023
Salvage crews perform lightering operation

Salvage crews perform lightering operations to safely transfer approximately 3,500 barrels of methanol to a nearby receiver barge at McAlpine Dam, April 6, 2023.

Salvage Operations continue following a barge accident, which occurred March 28 at McAlpine Locks and Dam, in Louisville, Kentucky.

A vessel towing 11 barges, which were owed by Ingram Barge Company, made contact with a stationary structure at the entrance to the Portland Canal near the McAlpine Lock and Dam, and as a result, 10 of the 11 barges broke loose. Seven of the loose barges were recovered the same day, however, the remaining three barges settled against the lower McAlpine Dam structure.

The lock chambers at McAlpine Locks and Dam (Ohio River mile 606.8), were temporarily closed to traffic due to the navigation accident. The river reopened to north bound traffic at approximately 7:30 p.m. that evening, and south bound traffic reopened March 29, through the use of the local vessel traffic services.

“Our Operations team worked quickly and established a command center with the U.S. Coast Guard, the shipping and salvage company, and other agencies to coordinate recovery and salvage operations,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Eric Crispino.

Although the barges were primarily carrying corn, one barge pinned against the lower dam site contained approximately 1,400 tons of methanol.

According to CTEH’s independent toxicology experts, methanol is a water soluble, colorless liquid. Methanol evaporates when exposed to air, quickly dissolves in water, and is readily biodegradable. However, it is potentially harmful if ingested or inhaled in significant quantities.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet immediately started sampling the Ohio River downstream from the dam and shared the results with the public daily. In total, more than 3,000 air quality samples were taken, in addition to water quality samples from locations below the dam. There was never any indication that any of the methanol barge’s cargo tanks were ever breached, and those testing results never showed any detectable methanol in the air or water.

On March 30, one barge containing more than 2,000 tons of corn was safely removed from the lower McAlpine Dam site, leaving two barges left—including the barge carrying methanol.

On April 4, crews arrived on-site to start positioning heavy salvage equipment for the safe transfer of the methanol from the settled barge to a receiver vessel in accordance with the approved salvage plan. By April 8, the methanol cargo was successfully transferred off the pinned barge and into the receiver barge.

Louisville Water’s drinking water was safe and was not ever threatened by this event. The barge incident had no impact on local water quality, according to the Louisville Emergency Management Team.

USACE continues to work closely with the USCG, navigation industry, salvage crews, and marine surveyors to recover the final barge, which was removed off the dam April 20. However, the hopper barge remains partially sunken upstream of the dam where they will begin working to salvage and remove it from the Ohio River the week of April 23. 

“A big thank you to our lock and dam’s team whose efforts have greatly contributed to this milestone being reached safely,” said Waylon Humphrey, Louisville District Operations Division chief.

Chick Lock

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