At about 2 a.m. last Tuesday, a vessel towing 11 barges “made contact with a stationary structure” at the entrance of the Portland Canal on the Ohio River near Louisville, Ky. As a result of the impact, 10 of the 11 barges broke loose, and three of them lodged against the lower McAlpine Dam.

The barges were being pushed by the 3,000-hp, twin-screw, 102' towboat Queen City.

As of April 2, two of the barges — one hauling corn and one loaded with methanol — were still lodged in place.

A narrow, human-made waterway, the Portland Canal connects the Ohio River to the McAlpine Locks and Dam and allows vessels to pass around the Ohio River’s falls.

All other barges were recovered by vessels in the area. The Army Corps of Engineers is working closely with the Coast Guard, the navigation industry, and marine surveyors to start recovery efforts on the remaining barges. 

Additional heavy salvage equipment arrived at the McAlpine Dam over the weekend. Crews are working to safely remove the driftwood surrounding the two remaining barges in advance of upcoming salvage operations.

One of the barges involved in the accident carried 1,400 tons of methanol, and several others contained corn and soybeans.

There have been no reports of injuries or pollution in the water. All tests continue to show no detections of methanol. More than 1,000 air quality samples have been taken during the incident, with all showing no detection of methanol. 

Teams will continue to monitor the air and water quality through the duration of the incident and those results will be regularly communicated to the public. The Coast Guard is investigating the incident.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet will continue sampling the Ohio River downstream from the dam and will make those results public as soon as available.

According to environmental consulting firm 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 sufficient quantities. Currently, the methanol contained in the vessel does not pose a risk to the surrounding air or water supply in the greater Louisville area.

There remains no evidence of a tank breach or any leaks, and air and water monitoring resources are in place.

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