No damage found at old bridge after hit

Published 11:28 am Friday, March 23, 2012

A visual inspection of the U.S. 80 bridge across the Mississippi River showed no major damage when it was hit by a grain barge early Thursday.

Meanwhile, today’s first anniversary of a barge strike that scattered 30 barges more than 10 miles downriver and left one stuck below pier 3 for 22 days passes without the U.S. Coast Guard failing to disclose a cause.

Thursday’s incident on pier 4 involved some of 33 barges of a 35-barge tow pushed south by the Jeffrey G. Stover that hit the support pier in the middle of the shipping channel.

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Train traffic resumed before noon Thursday and the scrape was minor, though the Vicksburg Bridge Commission will bill Missouri-based AEP for recovery costs, bridge superintendent Herman Smith said.

“It was in the ship channel, but it just hit the pier,” Smith said, adding he was confident the transport company would pay the fees. “We’re batting 1,000 so far.”

The commission has collected $72,669 from two companies whose towboats were involved in four barge strikes last year between March 20 and July 7.

An inspection by G.E.C., the bridge’s structural engineering firm, gave the pier a passing grade following Thursday’s strike, Smith said.

The barge from the March 23, 2011, strike partially sank and remained there through a three-week crush of media, onlookers with cameras and traffic stoppages on Interstate 20 until it was cut away and hauled across the river bank.

Marquette Transportation, which owned the Kay A. Eckstein that pushed the barges, did not respond to calls or an email this week. All four incidents are believed to remain under investigation by the Coast Guard. A public records request filed with the agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters has been assigned a series number, but no response arrived by this morning.

Big River Shipbuilding and Salvage had lowered a dual-pointed chisel onto the wayward and damaged barge last year. The company found itself helping Ergon Marine rescue barges from the most recent incident, doing “triage” on some of the floating containers, company project manager Hugh Smith said, noting the curious anniversary.

“Well, I guess now we have something exciting to talk about,” he said hours after the barges were corralled and loads lightened.

The Mississippi River stage at Vicksburg this morning was 33.5, up slightly since Thursday. The river was 41.6 feet a year ago today. A crest is expected by Tuesday, at 36.4 feet, according to the Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. Flood stage in Vicksburg is 43 feet.