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Crews Begin Ohio River Coal Barge Recovery Operation

Crews started work Wednesday to salvage nine barges pinned against the McAlpine Dam on the Ohio River.

At a news conference detailing the operation, officials said Big River Salvage and McKinney Salvage will anchor an empty recovery barge upstream. Crews will then load coal onto the barge using two cranes.

Shawn Kenney, Assistant Operations Manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the operation will take weeks to finish.

“As far as expectations on the amount of time, that’s one thing that people should understand: It’s going to be a dynamic situation,” Kenney said. “[Crews] do have to move at a very measured pace to understand — make sure that they’re looking at everything closely.”

The crews are contracted by Tennessee Valley Towing, a Paducah-based company. A company spokesperson declined to comment when asked how much the salvage operation would cost.

The barges sank after a tugboat pushing 15 barges toward Trimble County hit the Second Street Bridge on Christmas. Six of the barges were recovered but the other nine were pinned against the McAlpline Dam, cluttering debris and submerging coal. Each barge has the capacity to hold up to 1,800 tons of coal, officials say. 

Indiana residents Jeremey and Amanda Forbes watched on Wednesday as one of the crane’s jaws yawned open, spilling jet-black coal into the recovery barge. The Forbes say they have lived here all their lives, but they have never seen anything like this happen. 

“We come down here and fish, too, and I was wondering if it would hurt the environment,” Jeremey Forbes said. “I just hope we can get it all put past us. And maybe in the future, it doesn’t happen again.”

As WFPL reported in December, the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet says the coal is not likely an environmental hazard.

Kenney with the Army Corps of Engineers said the investigation into the Christmas-day incident is ongoing. He said plans have not been made to salvage coal which may have sunk to the river’s bottom.

Kyeland Jackson is an Associate Producer for WFPL News.