River Coal Shipments Continue Slump in WV

The State Journal
21 July 2016
By Jim Ross

Coal shipments through locks on the Kanawha River and on the part of the Ohio River that borders West Virginia were down in the second quarter, continuing a trend.

On average, the seven Ohio River locks, from the New Cumberland Locks and Dam in the Northern Panhandle to Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam near Point Pleasant, saw coal tonnage passing through them decline by an average of 16 percent in the quarter.

The locks at Robert C. Byrd handle coal out of the Kanawha River heading south and coal out of the Big Sandy River heading north. As production in those two basins has declined in recent years, the locks at Byrd have gone from being the busiest for coal in West Virginia to the least busy on this part of the Ohio.

Meanwhile, the Racine Locks and Dam, between Point Pleasant and Ravenswood, handles coal heading north out of the Kanawha and south out of the Moundsville area for customers on the Kanawha and the lower Ohio. It has become the busiest on the upper Ohio for coal traffic.

The largest decline in coal shipments on West Virginia’s waterways came at the Winfield Locks and Dam on the Kanawha River, where shipments were only about half what they were in the second quarter of last year. Year-to-year comparisons might not indicate a trend, as last year’s second quarter was a strong one for shipments through Winfield, but traffic was still down about 19 percent from 2014.

Locks at Marmet and London also saw coal tonnage decreases in the quarter.

 Unlike last year, shipments of petroleum and petroleum products were also down at all Ohio River locks along the West Virginia border. Decreases ranged from 9 percent at the Byrd to 24 percent at Pike Island, near Wheeling. However, shipments of those products are still higher than they were in 2014.

The Morgantown Lock and Dam on the Monongahela River did not handle any coal barges in the second quarters of 2015 or 2016. The Hildebrand and Opekiska locks on the Monongahela between Morgantown and Fairmont have been closed to commercial traffic for several years.

Monthly numbers were not available for the Big Sandy River or the Little Kanawha River, as they do not have locks on their navigable sections.