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Recovery efforts underway for the gravel barge that sunk at Kentucky Lake Dam's lock

Sunken barge at KY Lake
Posted at 5:26 PM, Jun 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-14 19:34:54-04

GRAND RIVERS, Ky. (WTVF) — There's no telling how many generations have slung and sunk rocks together on Kentucky Lake.

"We’re going to throw rocks in the water and take a nap," said Dilbert Richie, a Grand Rivers resident who was spending the day with his grandson.

But their rocks are just a drop in the bucket compared to the gravel barge, resting on the rock bottom of Kentucky Lake Dam's lock.

"It affects a lot of people. Hopefully, this won’t last very long," said Richie.

"I have worked for the Army Corps of Engineers at Barkley and Kentucky locks for the past 26 years — this is the first time I’ve seen something like this here locally," said Caleb Skinner, the Lockmaster for Kentucky Lake.

The problem started Saturday morning, when a barge owned by Terral River Services got hung on a concrete lip, called a miter sill, as they were locking through at Kentucky Dam.

"And as it sat on that, it caused the barge to tip forward and let it take on water," said Skinner. "It didn’t take but about a minute and a half to sink."

For a problem that took only seconds to take place, resurrecting the sunken barge has moved at a trickle pace. That is, until Tuesday morning, when the lock gates were opened wide for the recovery team to come through, consisting of the barge's parent company and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.

The first step was to see if the barge was even able to float again.

"Now that you got eyes on it, was gonna see what you thought?" asked Skinner over the phone, to one of the crew members below in the lock.

After a quick once over, Kentucky Lake's Lockmaster got the call he was hoping for.

"It’s good news," said Skinner, after he hung up the phone.

So they brought in two work barges, one to pump the water out and the other to get some of the gravel out.

"They’re getting ready to kick off those pumps and start pumping the water out of the hopper side of the barge," Skinner said. "The transfer barge is here so they can start removing some of the material out of the barge."

The hope is, eventually once the weight is lifted, so will the barge back up to the surface. In the meantime, the Kentucky Dam Lock remains locked down, and boat traffic is being redirected to nearby Lake Barkley.

"If the canal wasn’t here, the Tennessee River would be shut down at this moment," said Skinner.

Conveniently, the Kentucky Dam lock was already scheduled to be down for routine maintenance Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so most commercial ships should have known to take the Barkley Canal anyway.

That's a comfort to Dilbert Richie.

"This is a barge river, and it’s really busy," he said.

Richie says he loves being a stone's throw away from water that can bring commerce to this community.

"They know what they’re doing, and they’ll get it cleared out," said Richie.

As crews work to remove the barge, several government agencies are investigating what factors lead to the gravel barge sinking.