Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"A River Runs Through Us," Part 1

Tonight I went to Schooner’s, a restaurant in Huntington, to hear the first lecture in a series about the Ohio River presented by faculty of the Marshall University College of Science.

Chuck Somerville, dean of the College of Science, gave an overview of the importance of the Ohio River to the region and threats that it faces. The title of his talk was “The River Runs Through Us.”

Somerville said many people the Ohio River primarily as an industrial ditch, but he doesn’t.

“If you allow yourself to experience the river from top to bottom, it truly is a beautiful river, and it’s worthy of our protection,” he said.

Somerville said the Ohio River provides the daily water supply for about 3 million people, or about 1 percent of the nation’s population. Add in the people who draw water from its tributaries and groundwater that feeds into the Ohio, and the number increases, he said.

The river is also a transportation route for about $4.5 billion worth of cargo each year. It’s a waste removal system and a recreation resource, he said.

And the Ohio is a wildlife habitat. He said the river is home to 193 species of birds, 500 species of plants, 130 species of fish, 42 species of mollusks, 23 species of mammals, 15 species of herps (reptiles and amphibians) and, of course, people.

“I want all of you to think about taking care of this resource and loving the river as much as I do,” he said.

Somerville listed several threats to the river.

Ø    --  Agricultural runoff, which feeds algal blooms, affects oxygen demand and adds toxins.
Ø     -- Mining activity, which affects acidity, sediments and metals.
Ø     -- Natural gas drilling, partly because of increased interest in developing Marcellus shale deposits. Gas drilling leads to problems with sediments, solids, chemicals and water consumption, Somerville said. In West Virginia alone, 1,338 permits have been issued for drilling in Marcellus shale, he said. About 4 million to 8 million gallons of fresh water will be needed for gas drilling in the state, and about 75 percent of that will remain underground, he said. The water that is recovered will be contaminated. It will be 10 times saltier than sea water, and it will be treated as hazardous waste, he said. The amount of water that will be used is about the same as the amount that flows past Ashland, Ky., in 2.5 hours, he said.

Somerville said he is not advocating that drilling in the Marcellus shale shouldn’t be explored, but people need to pay attention to it.

Another threat he described was the combined storm and sanitary sewer systems of many cities along the Ohio.

So what can people do? Four things, Somerville said. They can appreciate the value of aquatic resources. They can support balanced conservation and sustainable development. They can talk to friends and representatives. And they can vote with their ballots and their money.

About 60 people attended Somerville’s lecture. The next talk in the series is on Dec. 14, also at Schooner’s. Jeff Kovatch, a biology professor at Marshall, will speak on “The Scale of Life in the Ohio River.”

For more background on the series, check out this article that ran in The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on Sunday.

#  #  #

On a personal note, I have been asked to share some of my river photos and give a talk on them during a future session. More to come as arrangements are made.

Also, I’ve known Somerville for about six years. We met in 2004 when he was part of a team of researchers from four schools – Marshall University, the University of Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More College – traveling the entire distance of the Ohio River on a sidewheeler known as the Chattanooga Star. Somerville and his students were looking for bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics. Others on the trip did their own research. One person in particular looked for zebra mussels.

At the time, Somerville was a professor of microbiology at Marshall. Since then he has become dean of the College of Science.

Before the lecture began, a person approached me and told me he knew who I was. He said he reads this blog, and he recognized some photos as having been shot from his back yard. As it turns out, he lives on the land where my mother lived for 23 years before she died in 1993.

Three news items

The TV people here in Huntington, W.Va., keep predicting a deluge for today, but I've not seen it yet. Meanwhile, folks up the river in Pittsburgh have issued a flood advisory along the Ohio River there.


It looks like the proposed buyout of American Commercial Lines is proceeding. The company operates towboats and builds barges.


I wish I could be in Madison, Ind., today for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ohio River bridge there. This is the one where the piers of the existing bridge will be widened while the new bridge structure is built nearby. Eventually, the old bridge will be removed and the new one placed on the piers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leftovers Part 3

Here are some more photos that were left over from October and November.

I tried shooting the Bridget Caulley in the rearview mirror of my car as it passed Huntington, W.Va., in the rain.

A barge tied to a mooring cell at Huntington. The evening light brought out the vertical members of the barge.

Two boats -- the Debi Sharp and the Lawrence C. Campbell -- meeting below the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, as seen from the Ohio side.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Seen on the Kanawha River

The mv. Bruce Darst and the mv. James R. Morehead at the mouth of the Kanawha River on an autumn evening. Both had just come into the Kanawha from the Ohio River.

Lecture series

Biology professors and others at Marshall University are launching a public lecture series on the Ohio River here at Huntington, W.Va., according to The Herald-Dispatch .

I'll try to catch most of the first one before I have to take Adam to a Cub Scout meeting.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, all

The Ohio River Blog is taking a couple of days off to celebrate Thanksgiving. My personal finances and my self-confidence (my arrogance?) have taken some nasty hits in the past 18 months, but my family is together and we're all healthy. So this week we can be thankful and not whiny.

The blog will be back this weekend. As we take a break, here are a few photos of the new AEP towboat AEP Leader Legacy, taken at Addison, Ohio, on the dark, cloudy and moody day that was today.

Leftovers, Part 2: mv. Paula Ruble

Adam's 11th birthday was Oct. 21. As part of that celebration, we went downriver to find the Crounse Corp. towboat Paula Ruble. We'd seen the Ruble a few times before. The first time was on Jan. 3, a day of bitter cold. The air temperature that day must have been in the low teens or lower, with a nasty wind chill. We chased the boat along 20 miles of river, and the boat was moving kind of slow. In other words, we stood on the river bank a lot. Because he dressed as warmly as I told him to, he ended up wearing my knit cap and my gloves.

Here's the Ruble on Oct. 21 right after she has gone under the U.S. Grant Bridge at Portsmouth, Ohio.

And here it is about to go under the Carl D. Perkins Memorial Bridge just below town.

And here's a closeup from that same photo.

On another subject, I see that the new towboat AEP Legacy is on the move in my area. But I have to go an hour and a half to the east for an interview this morning, so I don't know if I'll be able to catch it in daylight. But I'll try. With Adam's help,  of course.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Clouds, boat, river ... good

Today was gray and overcast. The air was too cool for just a long-sleeve shirt but too warm for said shirt and fleece jacket. It was comfortable weather for getting a few photos of the Crounse Corp. towboat Sara Page as it passed Huntington with 15 loaded coal barges.

First, the Page has gone under the East End bridge and is making a turn.

And here it is passing the downtown. The Ohio River was looking good today, and the sky and light were interesting.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Leftovers Part 1: Photos Without Towboats

In going through some photos I've taken in the past couple of months, I found several that could have been put on the blog but weren't for some reason. So over the next few days, I'll post them and see how they work. Today's theme is "Photos Without Towboats," chosen because it's too easy to rely on riverboats for a decent Ohio River photo.

This is the Frank "Gunner" Gatski Memorial Bridge between Proctorville, Ohio, on the left and Huntington, W.Va., on the right. I don't like that name. I really don't like that name. So, I use the local, generic name of the East End bridge. This was taken around daybreak on a Sunday morning.

One night while driving home from Point Pleasant, W.Va., traffic was stopped on state Route 2 in Cabell County, W.Va. There was no way around except to take a long back road that led to Interstate 64 about 20 miles east of where I wanted to be. So I and other folks sat there for about an hour while emergency crews cleared the scene. The only way I could tell what was going on was to stick my camera out the car window, shoot and magnify.

I don't know what caused this wreck. There were some odd-looking skid marks on the pavement. This accident confirmed my suspicion that too many people drive Route 2 as though it were I-64. It's a wonder there aren't more accidents. I've witnessed one accident and several near-accidents.

And this is the Ohio River flowing over the roller closest to the Ohio shore at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam.

This was taken at one of the more popular fishing spots in the area. Because of its 1930s roller design, the Byrd dam can allow water to flow over or under the rollers. Over the rollers produces a nice waterfall effect in sight, sound and mist.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Adam's eyes

This morning Adam and I were out looking for a certain boat, which we did not find. We did, however, see a boat far off in the fog, about a mile away. I couldn't tell whether it was going upriver or down. This is  the photo that I took to get an idea which way it was going. This is cropped and magnified here. It was just a blur on my camera's screen.

Adam, though, took a look and decided it was going upriver. As it turns out, he was right. I've learned to trust his eyesight. He can stand on one side of the Big Sandy River and spot a heron in the woods on the other side. He can look down the river a mile into the sunset and give an accurate guess which company built a boat that I can barely see.

When I was his age, my eyes were already going bad. But his eyesight is something I envy. If he got a job on a boat, the pilot could turn off the radar.

Contrast in Catlettsburg

One of my favorite spots along the Ohio River is Virginia Point Park at Kenova, W.Va., where the Big Sandy River empties into the Ohio. Whenever I go to the park, this usually catches my eye as I look across the Big Sandy at Catlettsburg, Ky.

Every time I look at this scene, I think of how the idea of community has changed in my lifetime. The church steeple to me represents people in a geographic area gathering at one spot. It could be a church, a country store, a park or a similar place. Now, kids communicate through their cell phones, and a lot of us adults form communities with people we might never meet face-to-face through the Internet.

But you know, the new reinforces the old, too. There are a lot of people I knew once who have moved away, and I can keep in touch with them thanks to social networking sites such as Facebook. So it's not so much of an old vs. new as you might think.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who was R.E. Burger?

The other day I had an item about the future of the R.E. Burger power plant, owned by FirstEnergy. Someone wrote to ask who R.E. Burger was, as he could not find the answer on the Internet. So I wrote a message to FirstEnergy asking that question. Here, in case anyone was wondering the same thing, was the answer:

"Rudolph Eugene Burger was president of the Ohio Public Service Company from 1946 until the company merged with Ohio Edison in 1950.  Ohio Public Service constructed the first part of the Burger Plant in the late 1940s."

Swan geese

A few months ago, I was kind of concerned about the pair of swan geese that made their home at Harris Riverfront Park in Huntngton, W.Va. We hadn't seen them for a while. Either they were gone or we were never around when they were.

Lately when we've gone to the park's boat ramp, we've seen our two familiar swan geese and two others -- a white one and a larger one.

They're nice additions to the park.

Assuming they're all swan geese, that is. If I've misidentified them, let me know.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coal's mark

When I got this overhead view of an empty coal barge, it reminded me of a conversation I had with someone who worked for either CSX or Norfolk Southern way back in the 1990s.

We were talking about rail cars that haul coal. He said coal can corrode steel, which is why some old coal cars looked pretty bad.

You can see in this photo what several years of hauling coal leaves behind on a river barge.

For those who wonder, I blurred out the ID number of the barge so it didn't look like I'm trying to make any one company look bad.

Maintenance work at Pike Island

The Wheeling Intelligencer has an article about how the main lock at the Pike Island Locks and Dam is closed for a while because of gate replacement.

Delta Queen (updated)

Could the Delta Queen sail the Ohio and Mississippi river systems again? A group called Save the Delta Queen 2010 has submitted a bid to buy the DQ from Ambassadors International and put it back in service as an overnight passenger boat, according to the Evansville Courier & Press.

When I heard a couple of weeks ago that Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., had been defeated in his re-election bid, I wondered what that would mean for the Delta Queen.

A few weeks ago, a friend who lives near Chattanooga sent me some pictures via Facebook of the Delta Queen tied up there. The DQ looks okay there, but she really needs to be moving out and about again.

Here are three photos of the Delta Queen in Chattanooga, courtesy Tina Jarvis Karnes:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Olmstead Locks and Dam construction

Want to read an article about construction methods being used at the Olmstead Locks and Dam on the lower Ohio River? Click here .

A tale of two power plants

1, A while back, First Energy said it would convert its R. E. Burger power plant along the Ohio River from coal to biomass. Well, that plan has fallen through, and FirstEnergy will shut down the plant's boilers by the end of this year. Details  in The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

2. I've written before about coal ash from power plants. Here's a piece on how people who live near a power plant at Shippingport, Pa. -- by coincidence, a FirstEnergy plant -- are dealing with problems from a coal ash storage area.

I came, I saw, I shot

Here are a few photos of the AEP towboat R.L. Carter Jr. heading up the Ohio River, passing old Lock and Dam 27 (Mile 301).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Drizzle, bridge, unfamiliar boat ... a good day

I had to buy some groceries so I could prepare a new dish for the wife and kids tonight. While I was out, I stopped along the Ohio River to see if there was anything worth seeing. I stood under the East End bridge at Huntington, W.Va. There was nothing down the river, but in looking up the river, I saw a boat with a color scheme I didn't recognize.

The light rain obscured my vision somewhat. It wasn't until the boat passed that I got its name as the Holy Angel.

From the photos, I could see that the windows on the lower deck were round, indicating that it spends some time near deep water. And I noticed that it had no corporate emblem on the smokestacks.

I looked it up later on Dick's Towboat Gallery and saw that it has had several names in the past 60 years.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Science experiment

I found this along the Ohio River bank last week.

The note says, "Please do not disturb. Science fair project."

Could it be a test of how the various materials attract algae, sediment or zebra mussel veligers? Perhaps we can find out some day.

I hope people respect the wishes of whoever put this experiment in the river and leave it alone. It reminded me of a couple of experiments that tried in my junior high years. One in particular happened during high water season. The river was backing up into a creek that ran through my father's farm. I wanted to know how fast the water was rising so I could figure if it would be over the back road my school bus ran on. So I placed a mop handle in a bucket of gravel and placed it at the water's edge, which was near the road. The idea was to check it every hour or so.

Well, about half an hour later someone told me they couldn't see my makeshift gage. So I went to the scene and found the mop handle lying on the ground near the road. I found out later that an outback boy -- you know, one of those guys who's as strong as an ox and half as smart -- saw it and pulled it out to see what it was. He couldn't figure out what it was doing there, so he threw it on the ground and walked off.

Yes, I hope the person doing this experiment has better luck than I had.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


There's one spot along the Ohio River in my area where the water is shallow for a few feet until you come to the dropoff, where the river gets deep quickly. Last week it was a great spot to see swarms of small fish darting around.

An old guy started up a conversation with me as I tried to get photos. The water just wouldn't let me get a crisp photo. He started talking about those little fish were young shad. And he showed me a bucket of larger shad that he had caught.

I asked why he needed so many. He said he was using them as bait to catch catfish out in deeper water.

For what it's worth, gizzard shad is the fish species found most often in the middle Ohio River, according  to a survey done last year by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.

I don't know a whole lot about fish, but I'm trying to learn. Sort of.

Three news items on a Sunday morning

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a story about efforts to bring paddlefish back to the upper Ohio Valley , but there are concerns about whether they will establish a breeding population.


From the Beaver County Times, money has been made available to convert an old steel mill along the Ohio River in the Aliquippa area into a dock that can serve multiple users .


From the Evansville Courier & Press, that Indiana city is trying to recover some of the money it is having to pay out as part of a consent decree with the federal government over problems with its sewer system.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

From the Kodachrome archives: The 1980s

So I was digging through my old slides again. I found these and figured I'd scan them and put them up here in case they drew out any memories. I was surprised how dark some of these images that are 25 years old and older were, and how out-of-focus some were. But I made them passable, I think.

So here we go ...

I'm pretty sure this photo is the newest of the group. It was taken at the old Gogolein (?) coal tipple a few miles below Gallipolis, Ohio, at the lower end of the community of Clipper Mills. That's the Omar of Ohio River Co. downbound. This picture wast taken in late September or early October of 1985.

This, I think, is the H.R. LeBar of M/G Tramsport Services. It has since been acquired by Ingram Barge and renamed the Craig E. Philip. I have several photos of this boat under its old name and colors and its new.

And this is probably the J. Page Hayden of M/G, now the Jerry Tinkey of Ingram.

Here is, I think, the R. H. O'Neill of American Commercial Barge Line.

Finally, one of my old favorites, the Aetna-Louisville of Ashland Oil. Now it works in South America.

Small nuclear nearing deployment?

Most of the barges that move through my part of the Ohio River carry coal. Most of that coal goes to power plants. I've wondered what the river would look like when the day comes that coal is replaced by other fuel sources. That would mean fewer boats on the river and the near-end of river traffic as we know it.

In my musings, I've wondered if smaller nuclear plants would replace large coal-burning plants someday. Perhaps that day is closer. According to this article , the Tennessee Valley Authority is looking at using smaller reactors built off site and shipped in to the plant site.

There's a line in the article that suggests these small reactors could someday replace coal-burning units at existing plants. That is, you remove the coal-burning equipment and plug one or more small reactors into the existing distribution grid.

Given how difficult it is to get permits for a new coal-fired plant nowadays, this might be one option IF getting a permit for a small nuclear facility is easier.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sewer matters

Way back when I was a newspaper reporter, I claimed the unofficial World Sewer Writing Championshipf or three consecutive years (1984 through 1986) because of all the articles I wrote from communities in Lawrence County, Ohio, struggling to build wastewater (the delicate name) treatment systems or to make their existing systems operate within the law.

Now I see Evansville, Indiana, has signed a consent decree over problems it has had with its system that combines storm runoff with sanitary sewer flow. More communities along the Ohio River will have to face this longstanding problem, I would say.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Something's missing ... maybe

This photo is from the early 1980s. In those years, I visited the West Virginia side of the Gallipolis Locks and Dam to watch boats go through the old locks. Those were the days when you could almost walk up to the edge of the lock wall and get a close look at boats going through.

Anyway, tonight I was looking at old slides from the 1980 to 1985 period, and I saw this one. I decided to scan it because it gave a closeup of the two guys on the barges as the boat went through the lock. It wasn't until I looked at the enlarged digitized image that I noticed something was missing.

The barges have no ID letters or numbers. And it looks like the parts that would have those markings hav been removed. Were they on the way to a scrap yard? Did some barges go without markings for whatever reason in that era? Am I reading too much into this?

I also noticed the barges were four wide instead of three, which makes me think they were the standard or stumbo barges we saw on the Kanawha River before the new locks were built there.

Okay, it's not exactly a thrilling mystery, and the answer would probably deflate my curiosity, but this picture did get me to wondering.

Summer fun, abandoned

It's around noon on a November day along the Ohio River. In a few weeks the area will look really brambly. That's the word the guy who drew "Calvin and Hobbes" used to describe his native Ohio in November.

But here, today, along the river, a few signs of summer persist. Some trees hold on to their leaves. And this rope swing, which I assume was used to swing out into the Ohio River backwater at the mouth of this creek so the person could let go and swim, hangs unused. It's a big rope, the kind used on the boats that push barges up and down the river.

At this moment, the river is quiet and reflective. And so am I.

I got several shots of different things today while trying to do something other than shop for groceries. I'll put them up tonight or tomorrow as time allows.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recent visitors

Here are some boats that have been on the Ohio River in the Huntington, W.Va., the past few days:

the James E. Nivin

the Orleanian

the Ronald E. Wagenblast (about three weeks ago, as darkness fell)

and the Linda Reed (today)

New park along Ohio River?

A Wheeling newspaper has an article about plans for a new park to connect the downtown with the Ohio River. As is often the case, the reader comments that go with the article present a different side of the story.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Adam has been disappointed of late because it's been a year since he's seen a towboat deadheading, that is, being pushed alongside another boat, with the deadheading boat not running. In my daily check of Ohio River traffic, I noticed the mv. D.A. Grimm of Campbell Transportation might be deadheading with the mv. Bill Stile. That meant we had to leave for Adam's Lego group appointment an hour and a half early so we could look for the Stile and the Grimm.

We found them north of Huntington as they were about to overtake the mv. Caleb Lay. We got several photos. I insisted Adam shoot some with my camera, too.

We started shooting after the Stile and the Grimm had overtaken the Lay.

First, here's one I got of the Lay after I got my camera back from Adam. I told him to take maybe a half dozen photos. He took 33.

This was taken from the Guyandotte boat ramp. You can see the Stile, right, and the Grimm head-on, with the empty barges of the Lay's tow immediately behind.

Here are the Stile and the Grimm passing Proctorville, Ohio.

Here they pass under Huntington's East End bridge.

And now they head down the river, with the bright autumn sun shining hard on them on a cloudless day.

It looks like the Stile was doing most of the pushing, but the Grimm's propellers were turning, too.

We would have gotten more photos, but Adam had to get to his Lego group meeting.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

mv. Pennsylvania passes Huntington

One of the few old "turtleback" towboats formerly owned by Ohio River Co. that still comes through our area every now and then passed Huntington today. Adam and I saw the Pennsylvania, formerly the L. Fiore, as we were driving along West Virginia Route 2 north of Huntington. Here is one shot we got ...

... and you can see others here and here and here .

As we walked along Route 2 to get a good shooting spot, a car driving by honked at us. I thought it was someone trying to be cute, but it turned out to be C.R. Neale, who we met in Point Pleasant a couple of months ago. C.R. sent us an e-mail letting us know he saw us there along the road. So here's a shoutout to C.R. Hey, C.R.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

AEP Legacy is on the river

AEP's towboat locator site lists its newest towboat of the same type as its other new ones. The AEP Legacy was at Mile 154 of the Lower Mississippi as of 4:08p.m. today. The AEP Legacy is the seventh in a series of new AEP boats, following (in alphabetical order) the AEP Leader, AEP Mariner, Buckeye State, Chuck Zebula, Hoosier State and Mountain State.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rock ruckus

Perhaps the most pointless dispute between Ohio and Kentucky since ... I don't know, maybe ever ... should end Thursday, Nov. 4.

If you want to read an editorial I wrote when this silliness started, look here .

For a second editorial on the same subject, written about six months later, click here . Note that by this time, the Kentucky attorney general -- the same guy who lost the election for a U.S. Senate seat this week -- had gotten involved.

Ah, to see newspaper editorials using the word "puh-leeze," as mine did.

I'm a wannabe photographer, not a jumper

Perhaps it was inevitable. I mean, who goes up on a bridge over the Ohio River just to get pictures of towboats passing downtown Huntington, W.Va.?

I went up on the 6th Street bridge today to see if I could get something good of the Darrell L., which was downbound with 18 empty coal barges. It wasn't an oversize tow, as most of the barges were what I think they used to call stumbo barges -- as long as a jumbo but as narrow as a standard. As I was walking down off the bridge toward downtown Huntington, a police car came by, and the officer inside rolled down his passenger side window. He asked how I was doing. Fine, I said. I was up on the bridge getting photos of a towboat going by.

The officer said someone had called in to report a jumper. Not me, I said. He said he had to check it out. I said I understood. He asked my name. I told him.

So he went on, and I did, too. I waved at the two guys in the firetruck behind him.

So much excitement (?), and not much photographically from walk up on the bridge (and 25 cents in a parking meter).

However, I did a few decent shots when the boat was up the river going under Huntington's East End bridge and headed downriver. Here are three.