In a subdued event that some likened to a funeral, the last barge built at Jeffboat slid down the ways into the Ohio River April 23, three weeks before the Jeffersonville, Ind., shipyard is to close permanently.
One of the nation’s biggest inland shipyards and its oldest, with roots going back more than 180 years to the early steamboat trade, Jeffboat in recent years employed up to 800 workers building dry and tank barges and other vessels.
But overbuilding in the barge sector and subsequent oversupply finally hit Jeffboat. Falling orders led to layoffs that accelerated through 2017. With another 226 jobs up for elimination in April, parent company American Commercial Lines (owned by Platinum Equities LLC) decided the diminished business was no longer sustainable.
“To be financially rewarding we have to build about 250 barges (annually) and employ 600 to 800 employees,” Mark Knoy, ACL’s president and CEO, told WorkBoat then. “In reality, it just didn’t appear that was going to happen. It was just too much of a financial struggle.”
About 75 people gathered on Monday morning to watch the final launch, the last of 12,917 vessels built at Jeffboat. On the side of the barge hung a banner that read:
“Thank you for your hard work, dedication and exemplary craftsmanship for Jeffboat to build the best barges, towboats and special vessels on the water.”
Mayor Moore says he has proposed to ACL that the company could donate the 80-acre riverfront property, obtain tax benefit for the gift and in exchange the city could take on environmental testing and cleanup – with the goal of commercial and residential redevelopment.