By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NEWPORT - Almost two weeks after a barge sank beneath the Newport Pell Bridge, how it will be recovered hasn’t been determined yet.
Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. of Minnesota, the owner of the barge, was hired by the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority (RITBA) for the purpose of repainting and making repairs to the steel structure of the bridge.
Repairs began in September 2010 and the current work is scheduled to be completed by year’s end.
The barge sank during a nor’easter on Oct. 30 and has been sitting in 60-70 feet of water since. In anticipation of the storm, workers removed hazardous materials, waste products and painting supplies from the barge and secured the barge with anchors.
Within the last week a unified command team has been formed which includes the United States Coast Guard, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Save the Bay, Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority and Abhe & Svoboda, Inc. This group will be coordinating the salvage of the barge.
At the time of the sinking, the barge had several pieces of large equipment, including large air compressors and vacuums, a grit reclaimer, generator and three 1,000 gallon diesel fuel tanks.
According to a Nov. 5 press release by the unified command team, a local salvage company has assessed the barge’s position and a recovery plan has begun.
Divers were out last week and located the barge lying upside down on the bottom, partially submerged in mud. The equipment is wedged between the barge and the bottom of Narragansett Bay, leaving the barge in an inclined position of about 45 degrees relative to the bottom.
“When divers confirmed the position of the barge, we realized this was going to be a complex salvage operation,” said Coast Guard Captain Verne Gifford. “While it will take a little longer, it’s important to bring the right resources to conduct the operation in a safe and efficient manner.”
The downside to this incident is that a minor oil sheen has been detected in the vicinity of the barge, measuring approximately 1,500 feet in diameter. An oil-absorbent boom has been deployed on the surface to contain the sheen and to protect nearby Rose Island.
In response to the oil leak, a pollution response contractor has been hired to continuously monitor the site and contain any further pollution.
As of press time, the unified command team was still making arrangements as to how the barge will be recovered.
With additional reporting from Shaun Kirby.