UPDATED: Old U.S. 80 bridge hit a fifth time

Published 6:56 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

The U.S. Coast Guard has stopped all southbound Mississippi River barge traffic from a point just north of the old U.S. 80 bridge south to the Natchez-Vidalia U.S. 84 bridge indefinitely after both bridges were struck by southbound tows Thursday, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

“We are not allowing any tows to transit those bridges,” Lt. Brian Porter said. “A light ship (tow boat only) will be able to transit the bridges, but nothing pushing a barge.

“We have a strong current in the river and what we’re trying to do is use a common sense approach,” he said.

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A southbound 19-barge tow pushed by the motor vessel Thomas Kay glanced off pier 3 on the Mississippi side of the old U.S. 80 bridge about 3:20 p.m. Thursday, damaging a barge carrying ethanol. Porter said the crew was able to patch the damage and no ethanol leaked into the river. He said the other 18 barges were carrying “dry goods,” adding at least three were carrying coal.

The strike occurred about two hours after a six-barge southbound tow pushed by the motor vessel Amy Francis struck the Natchez-Vidalia Bridge about 1:02 p.m. Thursday, damaging at least one barge carrying slurry oil to leak an unknown amount of the oil into the river, according to a Coast Guard incident report.

According to the report, an oily sheen was reportedly seen in the area of the incident.

The Coast Guard is working with state and local agencies and the barge owner to determine how mush oil was discharged, according to the report. Both incidents are under investigation.

The incident with the Thomas Kay was the fifth time in about 10 days a tow has struck the old U.S. 80 bridge. Wednesday, the motor vessel Wally Roller operated by American Commercial Barge Lines and moving a six-barge tow struck the bridge, causing all six barges to separate on impact.

Three of the barges contained grain, two had been carrying molasses, and a flagged barge had carried styrene, a hazardous material. None of the barges sank and there was no release of hazardous materials. All were collected by service boats from Ergon Marine.

Last week, three separate tows hit the bridge in three consecutive days.

Two coal-carrying barges sank Jan. 12 after a southbound tow pushed by the motor vessel Ron W. Callegan, operated by American Commercial Barge Lines, struck the bridge at 8:41 a.m. on the Louisiana side of the river.

Jan. 13, a barge carrying grain sank in the Mississippi when a 25-barge tow pushed by the motor vessel Inez Andrea and owned by American River Transportation Co. of Chicago hit Pier 3 on the Mississippi Side.

The sunken barge was one of two that broke loose from the tow. The other barge was corralled.

In both accidents, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials determined the barges were in deep enough water and would not affect river traffic.

Early Jan. 14, the motor vessel Robert D. Byrd owned by American Commercial Barge Lines River Operations sideswiped the bridge, leaving small scratches on pier 3. No barges broke loose.

The incidents forced the Coast Guard at the time sto restrict southbound barge traffic to daylight travel only with tows restricted to 25 barges and 300 horsepower per barge.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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