Recovery photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers,Tulsa District
Work crews have removed the last of two barges that sank during disastrous May flooding in Webbers Falls.
“Salvage crews … pulled the second barge away from the dam,” Muskogee County District 1 Commissioner Ken Doke said, “but only about 20-30 feet away” because of its mangled, fragile condition. Crews removed the first barge from the area Aug. 27.
During the spring flooding, the pair of barges became unsecured and floated down the Arkansas River toward Webbers Falls. City and emergency management officials ordered residents to immediately evacuate the town because of fears the barges would strike the dam, which was already straining to contain the floodwaters.
The barges did hit the dam, causing less damage than was feared. One of the barges sank immediately, while the second gave way. The force of the rushing water forced it to sink as well, but the impact was not as bad as officials had feared.
The recovery of the second barge requires crews to weld additional material to get a better grasp on the barge, Doke said. “Once it is better secured, it will be pulled further upstream where it will be fully removed.”
In the meantime, Doke said, the Tulsa District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now has control of all the gates at the dam. Water levels won’t be lowered any further, he said, but he pointed out that water levels will remain relatively low while crews inspect the dam.
If there is no damage on the second barge that requires immediate repair, Corps engineers could begin increasing water levels fairly soon. Once the team starts bringing up the water level, it will take about a week to refill the river to normal levels, Doke said.
While the Tulsa district manages water flow, salvage crews from McKinney Salvage & Heavy Lift Inc. are doing the actual recovery work.
The McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System culminates at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and stretches nearly 430 miles through Arkansas and into the Mississippi River. The system is a maritime highway that facilitates commerce from the Midwest to the rest of the world.
Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer
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