Gravel barge sinks in the Kuskowim River

by Angela Denning-Barnes on October 5, 2012

A 170-foot barge sunk in the Kuskowim River near the mouth of the Kwethluk River. The barge, “Delta Chief”, was carrying 800 tons of gravel and four pieces of equipment. It’s owned by Faulkner Walsh Constructors.

The barge was initially found Thursday morning at about 7:30 a.m. by Faulkner Walsh workers. They had been transporting the gravel downriver to Bethel and had tied the barge off to trees overnight. Thursday morning, only the back quarter of the barge was above water, and the rock and equipment was underwater.

The machinery included three pieces of heavy equipment, as well as a service truck. There were no fuel tanks on board, but the vehicles had up to 200 gallons of diesel fuel in them.

Bob Carlson is with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation in Bethel.

“We were told by Faulkner Walsh Constructors that that was the estimated amount of fuel on board,” Carlson said. “Of course, there would be other petroleum such as oil in the crank cases of these pieces of equipment and hydraulic reservoirs. So, there was potential for probably more than that but we really don’t know how much at this point.”

Carlson says Faulkner Walsh does have spill response tools with them like barrier boom. However, it might not work in the stormy weather.

“With these kinds of winds and currents and with the high water that we have, it’s unlikely that that sort of boom is going to be effective,” said Carlson.

No response agencies have seen the site because of the hazardous weather. The U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Alaska Department of Conservation are all coordinating efforts long distance.

The Environmental Protection Agency has jurisdiction in the event because it is on the river, up river from the Coast Guard’s territory. EPA would be responsible for overseeing any possible cleanup effort associated with the event. However, they are relying Carlson with the Bethel DEC office to keep the informed because they are stationed in Anchorage.

“We’ll deal with this when the winds die down and the conditions become safe,” Carlson said. “We’re not going to put people in harms way to deal with this sort of thing and I would expect that Faulkner Walsh would not either. So, we’re just going to have to wait what nature’s thrown at us so far.”

The Coast Guard office in Anchorage says they will be investigating the incident.

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