Contractors plan to start work sometime today to move two runaway barges that broke loose from a mooring 8 miles southwest of the Bonner Bridge replacement construction site during Hurricane Matthew, traveled about 20 or so miles down the Pamlico Sound, and ended up high and dry — one in north Avon and the other just south of Avon.
The first barge that the contractors will move is the one between Avon and the Canadian Hole. Moving the barge is expected to be completed on Friday and the contactors will move on to the second barge.
The barges have presented a challenge to the bridge contractor, PCL Civil Contractors, which was hired by the N.C. Department of Transportation for the Bonner project and which has rented the barges to use during the construction of the replacement of the bridge over Oregon Inlet.
Pablo Hernandez, the resident engineer for the NCDOT and the project manager for the Bonner replacement project, said the barges — called “tool” barges because they carry tools — were being used in the pile-driving operation in the center section of the new bridge.
As Hurricane Matthew approached, PCL readied the site according to a storm plan that had been coordinated with regulatory agencies and the U.S. Coast Guard. The plan included moving the barges to a mooring away from the bridge construction site.
However, the two barges broke loose in Matthew’s hurricane-force wind gusts and storm surge and traveled down Hatteras Island until they both came ashore within about seven miles of each other near Avon.
The U.S. Coast Guard reports that personnel at Coast Guard Sector Field Office (SFO) Cape Hatteras received a call from the Dare County Emergency Operations Center at about 1:50 p.m. Sunday, during the storm, stating one barge went adrift in Pamlico Sound and was aground in the vicinity of Weakfish Drive in north Avon, in close proximity to waterfront properties.
Island Free Press photographer Don Bowers found that barge up against the bulkhead of one of the waterfront properties and still apparently drifting.
That 140-foot barge contains approximately 300 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of hydraulic oil.
According to the Coast Guard, local authorities evacuated people from homes in the vicinity of the grounded barge and no injuries were reported.
PCL personnel determined later Sunday that a second 140-foot barge had broken free of its mooring at the same site and was also adrift in Pamlico Sound. The second barge was located Monday morning grounded between Canadian Hole and Askins Creek in south Avon.
The second barge contains approximately 200 gallons of diesel fuel and 300 gallons of hydraulic oil.
There have been no reports of pollution from either barge.
The barges are stable and not likely to move given the current water and weather conditions, Pablo Hernandez, the resident engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation and the project manager for the Bonner replacement project, said in an email last week. “All the equipment on the barges is accounted for, secure, and stable.”
For the better part of the past 10 days since the storm, PCL has been figuring out a plan for removing the barges from their resting places.
Hernandez says that PCL has contracted with a company that specializes in marine salvage, Center Lift, based in Louisiana. Center Lift engineers, he says, have reviewed photographs of the barges, aerial images, locations, environmental factors, and concluded that pneumatic roller bags are the best option to recover the barges.
“Roller bags can be positioned under the barges, inflated to a point which allows for an offshore towing winch to advance the barge off the shore,” Hernandez explained in an email. “The towing winch is mounted on a shallow draft barge, which is anchored in the soundside water up to 1,500 feet away from the barge to be recovered.
Once the barge is pulled off the shore and buoyant, smaller push boats and a shallow draft tug boat will pull and/or push the barge to Cape Channel. From Cape Channel, the barges will be taken to the Pamlico Sound mooring site 23 miles north of Avon or the bridge project site.
The equipment and materials for the barge recovery operations will be consolidated and assembled at the Bonner Bridge project site and transported to the barge recovery sites by water.
Hernandez said that the first barge with equipment on it left the Bonner construction site yesterday afternoon, and second barge was expected to leave last night or this morning.
“The barge recovery operations will be marine based to access the barges,” Hernandez says.
“The NCDOT has reviewed the plans provided by PCL and finds the methodology and plans thorough and acceptable, ” he adds.
“As part of the NCDOT’s partnership with the various environmental agencies for the Bonner Bridge replacement project,” he says, “the plans have been shared with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, N.C. Division of Coastal Management (NCDCM), N..C Division of Water Resources, N.C. State Historic Preservation Office, and National Park Service. All the agencies have responded such that recovery can proceed.”
The Coast Guard will have two members of the Marine Safety Center SERT (Salvage Engineering Response Team) and a safety observer on site during the recoveries. The Park Service will also have an observer at the recovery site of the barge on park property near Canadian Hole.
Hernandez says that concurrent to this review by the NCDOT and the agencies, PCL has been coordinating mobilization of the personnel, materials, and equipment to the Bonner Bridge Project Site.
“Given the specialized equipment and personnel,” he says, “at this time it is anticipated that work will begin Wednesday, Oct. 19, with the goal of having the first barge removed from the shoreline and in deep water by Friday, Oct 21.
The recovery operation will move immediately to the second barge and expects to have them both back to the construction site in a week’s time.
“Please know it is the NCDOT’s and PCL’s mission to remove these barges as soon as possible,” Hernandez added. “However, keep in mind that the operations are weather and equipment dependent. Further, the protection of the environment, the protection of private and public property, and site safety are paramount to this mission and will constantly be monitored by NCDOT, PCL , and the various agencies. ”