Coast Guard: No Fines in Barge Mishap

Star City Bridge Hit When Vessel Got Loose

Morgantown Dominion Post
15 August 2013
By Jim Bissett

For nearly four hours Tuesday night, the Star City Bridge was one over troubled water.

A barge got loose and slammed into the base of the span that carries W.Va. 7 and U.S. 19 over the Monongahela River.

Authorities closed the bridge to traffic while officials with the state Division of Highways (DOH) and U.S. Coast Guard checked for damage following the collision, which happened a little past 7 p.m.

Mike Wolfe, the director of MECCA 911, Monongalia County’s emergency dispatch system, said Wednesday he was pleased with both the quick response and diligence as experts gave the bridge a structural once-over.

“Everybody out there did a great job,” he said. “My thought was, ‘Let’s not have any catastrophes, but let’s get this thing reopened as quick as we can.’ ”

That’s because the bridge that sees heavy traffic on a normal day is about to be enlisted for a day on Friday that will be hardly normal on the four-wheeled side of things: That is move-in day for WVU, and thousands of students will be tooling in for Monday’s start of the fall semester.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard, which investigated the incident, said no charges will be issued against CONSOL Energy, the company that owns the barge, or to Greer Limestone, the company that leases it.

Officials said water levels that were higher than normal caused the barge to slip its moorings at Greer’s docks on Eighth Street. The flow worked the barge’s lines lose from the timberheads on the dock — causing the current to take the barge.

“We ’ve been operating in the barge business for several years and this is the first time something like this has happened,” said Robert Gwynne, Greer’s general counsel. “We ’re thankful there was only minor damage to the bridge and that it was deemed safe to pass over and under. ”

Granville Police Chief Craig Corkrean attempted to intercept the barge in his department’s police boat, but the wayward vessel was too big and moving too fast to stop, he said.

Such barges can typically hold up to 990 tons of material — and this one hit the bridge at a good barge-clip of 2 knots, which translates to a little more than 2 miles an hour.

The impact — the chief said it sounded like a “big boom” — knocked a 4-foot chunk of concrete off the base of the bridge.

Randy Harris, a bridge engineer with the DOH, gave a thumbs up to the bridge, which reopened to traffic at about 11 p.m., Wolfe said.

Both CONSOL and Greer will be open to some dialogue from the U.S. Coast Guard in the days ahead, said Lt. Devin Adams, who serves with the maritime branch’s Pittsburgh division.

“Our biggest role is education,” he said. “We talk to companies on ways they can better manage their barge fleets, things like that.”

Gwynne said Greer is already taking precautions to avoid such incidents in the future.

GREER LIMESTONE CO. is a division of Greer Industries Inc. John Raese and David Raese co-own the West Virginia Newspaper Publishing Co., publisher of The Dominion Post. The Raese brothers also co-own the West Virginia Radio Corp. and Greer Industries Inc.