Content Of Barges Diversified In Western Pa. As Coal Taking Up
13 December 2015
By Aaron Aupperlee
Barges often outnumber people in the Beaver County river town of
More than 200 barges can easily tie up along a nearly three-mile
landing on the Ohio River almost out of sight from the 174 people
living above its banks.
Capt. Charles Montgomery pilots the Alice Jean, a 1,200 horsepower
tow boat, alongside six barges docked at Campbell Transportation
Co.'s facility. Coal and coke fill five. Soybeans fill the sixth.
Coal production nationwide has fallen nearly 10 percent during the
past year because of softening demand and low prices. Yet coal and
the coke used for steelmaking still dominate the Georgetown
landing, where Campbell crews re-arrange barges into smaller or
larger tows depending on if they are heading upriver toward
Pittsburgh or down toward the Mississippi, said Terry Mick, port
captain of harbor vessels.
“Coal's always been the big dog but that big dog is not as big as
it once was,” said Bill Porter, director of sales for Ingram Barge
Co., a Nashville company with an office in Whitehall.
In recent years, a variety of products and commodities have
appeared on the rivers.
Fertilizers, grains, lime, salt and steel coils often fill covered
barges, old coal barges outfitted with a retractable roof. Across
the river, a fleet of tankers float full of lube oils, diesel and
jet fuel, gasoline and petrochemicals. A load of sand, mined in
Wisconsin to be used in hydraulic fracturing wells in Western
Pennsylvania, left the landing last week, bound for McKees Rocks,
10 hours upriver on a nice day.
“We're diversified here,” Mick said, wearing a bright orange
lifejacket and pointing to the covered barge filled with soybeans.
Coal, lignite and coke account for nearly three-fourths of the
32.7 million tons shipped by barge through the Port of Pittsburgh
in 2013, according to data from the Army Corps of Engineers and
But the amount of coal floating on the Allegheny, Monongahela and
Ohio rivers has declined. About 12 million tons passed through
Emsworth this year, 2 million less than last year. In 2013, about
23.7 million tons of coal passed through the Port of Pittsburgh, a
network of 200 river miles passing through 17 locks and dams along
the three rivers. That's 2 million less than the year before and
nearly 9 million less than a recent peak in 2005.
“We continue to turn rocks to figure out what we could load into a
barge,” Porter said.
Barges hauled 1.8 million gallons of petroleum and related
materials such as gasoline, kerosene, lube oil and greases,
through the Port of Pittsburgh in 2013. More than 2 million tons
of sand and gravel, 1.4 million tons of limestone and 1.3 million
tons of manufactured iron and steel products moved along the
rivers that year.
More than 20,000 tons of food and farm products was shipped
through Emsworth in 2014 and again this year. None went through in
2013. The amount of manufactured goods barged through the lock
there nearly doubled to 140,000 tons this year from 80,000 tons in
Porter said road salt will fill barges this time of year.
Campbell CEO Peter Stephaich said the drop in coal has been slight
but noticeable. The shuttering in 2013 of FirstEnergy's Hatfield's
Ferry power plant in Greene County took demand for about 5 million
tons of coal a year off the river, Stephaich said. Others have
closed downriver, pressured by tougher environmental rules and
competition from natural gas.
Demand from remaining power plants in Western Pennsylvania, West
Virginia and Ohio and coke facilities, such as U.S. Steel's plant
in Clairton and Shenango on Neville Island, has remained steady.
ArcelorMittal re-opened a coking facility in Monessen in 2014,
providing a small boost to coal and coke traffic.
But Stephaich fears the decline will continue.
“There is absolutely a concern that's driven by the regulations
and the cost of natural gas,” Stephaich said.
To prepare, Stephaich's company covered 50 of its 600 barges for
hauling grains, sand and other commodities. Campbell also opened a
facility in West Virginia to clean and service tank barges for
Stephaich and other operators continue to eye wastewater from
shale gas drilling as a future barge commodity. The Coast Guard
and state regulators are working on rules for the shipping of that
water via barge.
Larry Darnell, the manager of vessel operations for Campbell,
isn't worried about the future of barges. He steered a lot of coal
and a little bit of everything else through Western Pennsylvania's
three rivers in his 43 years as a captain, through previous tough
markets. Darnell piloted tractors, automobiles, and even whiskey
“Straight to the tailgaters,” Darnell joked about thirsty Steelers
and Pirates fans outside the former Three Rivers Stadium along the
Allegheny River. “If it fits in the tow, we'll take her down the
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be
reached at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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