Cleanup could take days after barges hit J.B. Bridge

News-DemocratApril 22, 2013 

The Jefferson Barracks Bridge is back in operation after it was struck by some of the 114 barges that broke away over the weekend.

The salvage operation that has disrupted river traffic south of St. Louis following the accident is expected to go on for several days.

All of the breakaway barges are accounted for. But, according to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Byron Black, 11 of them sank and must be recovered.

"The Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the river industry are working together to respond to this event," said Black, commander of Coast Guard Sector Upper Mississippi River. "Our goal is to get the river back to normal operations in the safest, most effective way possible. Until then, the Coast Guard urges everyone to be cautious on the river and obey the temporary river closure."

The barges that broke away belong to American Commercial Lines.

"We continue to work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard on salvage operations, and our number one priority remains the safety of the public and the salvage teams," said Chris Shepherd, American Commercial Lines Vice President of Supply Chain and Northern Facility Operations. "We thank the Coast Guard and our industry partners for their assistance in ensuring a safe recovery effort."

Black said the barge accident did not cause any injuries or spills into the Mississippi River.

The rising water has forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District to temporarily close all recreation areas along the river. The Corps' Rivers Project Office has temporarily closed Pool 26 in Calhoun County and Pool 27 in Madison County, which will remain closed until the water level recedes.

Complicating the recovery effort is the fact that the river is high thanks to heavy rain in the Midwest. It currently is at the brink of moderate flood stage at nearly 35 feet. The water level is expected by the National Weather Service to decrease starting Thursday. But that could change thanks to more rain predicted this week.

The barges broke free from their tow late Saturday on the swollen river and some of them struck the bridge. The span was closed at 2 a.m. Sunday for inspection before being cleared to reopen for traffic by 8 a.m.

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