CLARKSVILLE, Indiana — After being suspended for nearly a month, barge salvage operations are expected to resume at the Ohio River's McAlpine Dam in Clarksville in the coming days.
A tow line pushing 15 coal-filled barges struck the Clark Memorial Bridge on Dec. 25, causing all barges to break free. Six of the freed barges were soon recovered, but nine remained at the dam, including seven sunken barges. The process of retrieving the remaining barges began Jan. 9, but by Feb. 7, operations were suspended due to high river levels.
Three barges, including one sunken barge, remain at the dam, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Katie Newton. The Corps, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, was primarily responsible for approving salvage plans. The actual retrieval is being conducted by salvage companies retained by Tennessee Valley Towing, the tow company responsible for the barges involved in the crash.
One barge can be seen poking up from the river against the dam while a second floats near the shore of Ashland Park. Newton said one of the barges is obstructing the dam but not causing any travel restrictions or otherwise negatively impacting dam operations. The Army Corps of Engineers does not have an anticipated completion date as the retrieval operations are weather-dependent, but Newton said work is expected to resume "in the next couple of days."
Further questions about salvage operations, including the costs and estimates on how much coal was spilled, were referred to an attorney for Tennessee Valley Towing. That attorney could not be reached by press time.
According to previous News and Tribune reporting, each barge can hold between 1,500 and 1,800 tons of coal. Salvage crews began work by loading piles of coal left on the stranded barges onto other empty barges. After the coal was transferred, the stranded barges were to be removed. A Coast Guard representative previously said there were no plans to remove the coal from the bottom of the river.
Following the crash, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, which manages a network of Ohio River water quality monitoring stations, began monitoring for any potential safety risks. As of Wednesday, ORSANCO had not detected any "unusual volatile organics related to the coal barge event," a spokeswoman said by email.