Navigation was restored Monday as towboats removed barges that had been swept away by ice and lodged against the Emsworth Lock and Dam downriver from Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, Corps of Engineers officials said.

A week-long ice clearing operation at the facility liberated its navigation lock Saturday, enabling vessel movements to begin extracting the barges.  The lock was reopened to navigation Monday as the Coast Guard lifted a full waterway closure that had been in effect from mile markers 2 to 20.

Of 27 barges that broke away from the Jake’s Run fleeting area Jan. 13, two are still missing and believed sunk in the Pittsburgh pool, according to Corps officials. Five had been removed from the dam by Tuesday, and traffic through the lock is still subject to restrictions so the recovery efforts can be prioritized, Coast Guard officials said.

The Coast Guard eased safety zone restrictions farther downriver, as cleanup operations continued between miles markers 95 to 105  where 34 other barges were scattered by ice during a breakaway near mile marker 94 near Moundsville, West Va. One barge was removed at mile marker 104.7, and transits were being allowed as the Coast Guard urged mariners to exercise caution.

With the onset of warmer weather in the eastern U.S., a unified command of the Coast Guard, Corps of Engineers and towing industry worked to expedite opening the river for commodities shipments and coal deliveries to power plants in the Ohio Valley.

Breakaway barges were lodged by ice at the Emsworth Lock and Dam for a week. Corps of Engineers photo.

Breakaway barges were lodged by ice at the Emsworth Lock and Dam for a week. Corps of Engineers photo.

The ice jam response has included a lot of help from local partners, including assistance from Monongalia County (Pa.) Homeland Security Emergency Management and Morgantown municipal authorities. Monongalia County provided a drone to provide aerial views of icepacks on the rivers.

The Morgantown police and fire departments provided side-scan survey equipment to help locate the barges believed submerged in the upper or lower pools at Emsworth. The National Weather Service has been providing the team with updated information on weather, river and icepack conditions.

“This is truly a team effort and the unified command appreciates the support as we work to restore navigation and transportation of vital supplies to area power plants and other industries,” Corps officials said in a statement Sunday.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.