Salvage of Breakaway Barges Continues Near Marseilles Dam, But Receding Water Levels to Cause Extended Delay to Navigation

Seven barges rest against the Marseilles, Ill., Dam after breaking free from a tow on the Illinois River, April 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard Photo
Seven barges rest against the Marseilles, Ill., Dam after breaking free from a tow on the Illinois River, April 18, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

MARSEILES, Ill – Salvage crews have removed the first of seven barges stuck near the Marseilles Dam on the Illinois River, but officials warned that an imminent drop in water levels is going to cause extended delays to commercial ship traffic.

The barge, which is loaded with iron ore fines, was pulled from the dam Tuesday morning by tugs, and work continued Wednesday on the remaining six barges either floating or submerged near the dam.

The barges have been stuck there since last Thursday when the M/V Dale A. Heller, a 128-foot towing vessel owned by Ingram Barge Company, lost control of its tow due to strong currents from heavy rainfall that has impacted the region. Seven of the Dale A. Heller’s 14 barges broke free and came to rest against the Marseilles Dam, causing damage to some of the dam’s gates. Four of the seven barges also sank near the dam.

So far there have been no reports of pollution.

“Ingram is working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that all salvage operations are handled in a safe and secure manner,” Scott Noble, senior V.P of ingram Barge Company, said on Tuesday. “[Tuesday] we made substantial progress in removing the first barge safely from the area and we began work on salvaging a second barge.”

Salvage continued Wednesday with the dewatering of one of the submerged barges. The Army Corps of Engineers was on scene with a large crane to offload the barge’s cargo if needed to help with the refloat.

An inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers on Sunday determined that the dam was structurally sound but the anchorage systems on gates two and three had been broken. Also gates four, five and six (there are eight total) were not operable due to interference from the floating barges. A full assessment of the damage is not expected until after all barges are removed and the water level recedes.

Members of the Unified Command, which is made up of representatives from Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan, the Army Corps of Engineers and Ingram Barge, stressed that there is no threat of additional flooding in surrounding communities.

An update from Unified Command Wednesday revealed that due to the damage to the Dam, a drop in water levels below the minimum depth for commercial traffic in the pool between Marseilles Dam and the Dresden Island Lock is imminent and could occur as soon as this weekend. The Unified Command warned that this could be an extended event, lasting perhaps weeks. Recovery operations of the barges may also be affected by the loss of the pool.

“As we progress through this critical stage during the next couple days, we remain cognizant of the impacts this will have on all river traffic utilizing the Illinois River and related waterways systems, “ said Capt. Matt Sibley, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. “The Unified Command is working with maritime industry stakeholders to begin formulating contingency plans.

The Unified Command says it is placing a priority on clearing all vessel traffic out of the river from the Marseilles Lock and Dam to the Dresden Lock and Dam.