Cautious cleanup after barges pile up at Ohio River lock near Pittsburgh

High water and ice sent breakaway barges down the Ohio River Saturday, with 15 lodged against the Emsworth Lock and Dam near Pittsburgh as Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard officials worked to untangle the mess.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh reported 27 barges, some loaded with coal, broke loose from the Jack’s Run fleeting area near mile marker 4. A review of security videos at Emsworth showed seven  barges passed through the gates — the first lock and dam on the Ohio downstream of the city. Despite the intimidating sight of barges and ice piled against the structure, there was no damage, Corps officials reported Monday.

Meanwhile, an updated tally found 35 other barges were breakaways down river at mile marker 94 near Moundsville, W. Va. Two safety zones — including full waterway closures — were established from mile marker 94 to mile marker 110, and mile marker 2 to mile marker 20 on the Ohio River due to risk of channel obstructions. By Monday all but three barges from the breakaways had been located, according to a report from a unified command of the Coast Guard, Corps and industry partners.

Those restrictions remained in place, as the Corps of Engineers attempted icebreaking to recover the barges. While damage was found to the locks and dams, Corps officials said the cleanup will take time because of safety concerns in extremely icy and hazardous conditions. A side scan sonar survey was planned Tuesday to assess channel conditions and look for obstructions, depending on weather and river conditions.

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate 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 a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 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.

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