October 26, 2016

UPDATE: Runaway barges depart Avon, head back
to Bonner Bridge...WITH SLIDE SHOW


This time-lapse photography by Don Bowers shows the actual operation using roller bags to lift the barge, so it can be pulled into deeper water.

The second of two runaway barges from the Bonner Bridge replacement construction area was officially moved from its temporary and unexpected residence on the soundside in north Avon this morning and is headed back toward the Bonner Bridge construction site.

The two barges broke loose from a mooring located 8 miles southwest of the bridge site, and floated roughly 20 miles south down the Pamlico Sound until they ran aground in Avon during Hurricane Matthew.

One barge, which was moved last Friday, Oct. 21, was located between south Avon and Canadian Hole. The operation to move the barge took roughly four to six hours and utilized the help of a company that specializes in marine salvage, Center Lift, which is based in Louisiana.

The moving of the second barge was postponed on Saturday and Sunday because of high winds that were forecast for the area, according to Pablo Hernandez, the resident engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the project manager for the Bonner replacement project.

After the crew finished removing the barge Friday from south Avon, the salvage equipment for the endeavor was taken to the Avon Harbor to ride out the winds that were expected over the weekend. The equipment was moved on Monday morning to the second barge site to begin work.

Unfortunately, while the equipment was docked at the Avon Harbor over the weekend, equipment, including batteries, fire extinguishers, and radios were stolen from some of the support vessels. The Dare County Sheriff’s Office responded to the theft report on Monday morning, soon after it was discovered. “The Sheriff’s Office is here investigating, and taking fingerprints off of one of the vessels,” Hernandez said on Monday. “It’s disappointing to come in on Monday morning, and find that [some of the equipment] is gone.”

Despite the theft setback, all equipment and crew members were in place to get the second barge moving and back to its rightful placement next to the Bonner Bridge on Monday.

“Always, we’re equipment and weather dependent, but hopefully we just have good luck being able to put the air bags underneath the barge,” said Hernandez on Monday morning.

The process to move the vessels entailed positioning roller bags, or air bags, under the barge, which in turn allows an offshore towing winch to advance the barge off the shore. Prior to being moved, support vessels that consist of shallow draft work boats – or oversized, flat-bottom john boats with anywhere from 300 to 400 horsepower outboard motors -- charted several paths in order to be able to move the larger tug, or larger push boat.

In addition, these shallow draft support vessels also scouted out the routes to take out the barges to deep water so they can rendezvous with increasingly larger tugs, and cruise all the way to the Bonner Bridge without being stuck in shallow sound waters.

A number of personnel were at one or both sites from multiple organizations and companies, including crew members from the specialty contractor Center Lift, additional crew members from the contracted support vessels, employees of PCL Civil Contractors -- the main contracting company on the bridge replacement which had rented the barges -- observers from the U.S. Coast Guard, NCDOT personnel, and an observer with the National Park Service.

The crews spent Monday positioning the roller bags so that the barge could be safely moved from its landlocked position without incident and finished the positioning on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon, the barge had started its slow progress away from the shoreline and out into open waters, but hit a minor roadblock when it hit a shallow area of the sound.

The crews worked Tuesday afternoon to get the barge moving again, and it was free and ready to go by Tuesday evening. By Wednesday morning, the barge was on its way to deeper waters, en route back to its place beside the Bonner Bridge.

Hernandez says it’s too early to tell whether the impromptu relocation of the barges will slow down the project in the long term.

“We still have two years to go on this project, so that means there’s a lot of time left,” he says. “Granted, because of the equipment that was on the barges, there were some operations we could not perform right after the storm passed, but there was other work available to the contractors.”

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