Sunday, August 30, 2015

Shallow water at Riverfront Park

About 8 a.m. yesterday morning I was kneeling down by the Ohio River at Harris Riverfront Park here at Huntington, W.Va. The river was still and calm. The spot where I knelt was a few yards above where the Mississippi Queen docked when it first visited Huntington 30 years ago this month. I was kneeling to get a look down into the Ohio. This is a place where my granddaughter and I often walk. I try to keep her away from the edge of the concrete walking area along the river because she might fall in and find herself in water way over her head.

Was I ever wrong about that.

As I stared into the water, I was amazed at how shallow it was. There was maybe 18 to 24 inches of water there at normal pool that morning. A little farther up the river, toward the boat launch ramp, the water got shallower. The shallow water extended as far out as the transparency or translucency of the water would let me see.

I had heard from people at the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that this part of the park had problems with sedimentation, but I didn't know they were this bad. This also explains why a few years ago, when I saw a Coast Guard buoy tender tie up at the park overnight, that there were guys on the head and the stern of the boat with poles measuring the water's depth.

Staring down into the water, I thought I saw where mussels or some other marine life lived. I couldn't see them, but there were streams of little bubbles that rose from the mud and popped when they reached the surface. There were also some little green floaters on the water, possibly the blue green algae that is causing problems a couple of hundred miles upriver in the Steubenville, Ohio, area. It reminded me of my tenth-grade biology class in high school. One of the few things I remember from that class, other than the day I managed to cheat my way to perfect score on the test in full view of y classmates but not my teacher, was that the green stuff we say in creeks back up in the hollers of southern Ohio was an algae called spirogyra, even if our elders referred to it as frog (you know).

Oh, after the test I told the teacher what I had done. He commended me on my ingenuity.

Other than the cost-benefit ratio, I suppose there's no rush to dredge the shallow water along the park wall. For all I know, the mud there could be home to the pink pearly mucket mussel, an endangered species that can stop a variety of human works in the river.

Should someone fall into the river, the question now probably would be how soft the mud is. So the next task for the inquiring mind is to take a long stick and poke the mud. If I do, I'll let you know what happened.

Locking through Olmstead

This is another of those I-wish-I-could-be-there-to-see-it occasions.

The Olmstead Locks and Dam, which has been under construction since -- I don't know, but it's been a long, long time -- will begin passing traffic today through the landward lock chamber because of dam construction activities out in the channel.

Combined with traffic restrictions at Locks and Dam 53 because of work on that dam, it could be slow going on the lower Ohio for a while.

Here is the pertinent information, lifted from Navigation Notice 2015-035, issued by the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on August 14.

Lock 53 is scheduled to have wicket repair activities and a lane restriction in effect Tuesday 25 Aug 2015. River traffic will be restricted to a 400’ wide channel on the Illinois side of the center pier (please see attached detail drawing). This restriction will be in effect until modified by future navigation notice dependent on repair progress.  The Olmsted project is scheduled to begin locking operations on 30 August 2015.  The channel will be closed due to ongoing construction activities; however river traffic will be diverted to the landside chamber to pass the project site.

Following that are instructions for commercial traffic between miles 953 and 968.

I haven't heard of any traffic using Olmstead up until now, so I'm wondering if this will be as big a deal as what happened when the M/V Bob Benter became the first boat to use the Greenup Locks and Dam way back when.

If you want background on why it's taken so long to build Olmstead, which has been under construction since the first part of Bill Clinton's presidency, check out this article.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Toxic algae bloom in the Ohio River

According to news reports by WTOV-TV and The Columbus Dispatch, algae capable of causing sickness in humans and death to pets has been found in the Ohio River at or near Belmont County, Ohio, up in the area near Wheeling, W.Va.

That would explain the little floaters I've seen the past few days along the Ohio here in the Huntington area. The algae needs calm waters, not flowing waters, to reproduce, and the river has been pretty low and calm lately with the lack of rain. About the only thing stirring the water is barge traffic and pleasure craft.

M/V O. Nelson Jones, 8-29-2015

I do declare, this classic St. Louis Shipbuilding and Steel Co. boat, built in 1964 as the L. Fiore, sure looks good in the morning light.

Tell me I'm wrong. I won't believe you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Annie reaches Huntington

I was on Facebook tonight when Jeff Kovatch, a biology professor at Marshall University, sent me a note telling me to get myself to Harris Riverfront Park, where the Annie was tied up.

I got there as darkness fell, but I managed to get a few shots of the boat.

The park had several visitors this evening, and a lot of them made a point of walking by the boat and getting a close look. A fellow who got off the boat told me the dog on it is named Hillary. I said that would explain why it barked at me earlier. It must have known my parents were lifelong Republicans, although a great-grandfather on my father's side supposedly was a player in the Democratic Party in Cincinnati many, many years ago.

The Annie may look like a converted coastal tug from the front, but it was handbuilt over a period of more than a dozen years. Its owners live in Alabama, and they are on their way to Pittsburgh. They document their travels in a blog called Voyages of Annie.

I got to talk with them briefly tonight, and I'm supposed to see them again tomorrow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

M/V Senator Stennis, part 3

And here are the remainder.

I'm still thinking about Ferry Week, probably in early to mid September.

Summer morning by the river

Lately it's felt a lot more like September than August. Considering the rain we had early in the summer and what feels like an early onset of fall, this could go down as the year of the short summer.

Anyway, I had some time between things to do this morning, and I was near the river anyway, so ...

My favorite bridge lit up by the morning sun.

Guys preparing to work on the deck.

Two guys enjoying the morning.

And two more guys on their morning commute, although I doubt they're coming home tonight.

M/V Senator Stennis, part 2

A week ago my Internet service acted like it was coming back, so I posted one photo of the M/V Senator Stennis while it stopped at Huntington for a crew change. My DSL line was only teasing me. It went out again shortly after I posted that one picture. So here are a few more, mostly taken from angles that I almost never got to experience.

Up next: A few more Senator Stennis photos, then we move on to something else.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Two weeks later ...

Thirteen days after my Internet service went out, my provider restored it today. It's gone out on me before, but never for this long.

But that's my problem, not yours. So now it's time to do some catching up. We start with a photo of my favorite bridge.

The bridge is down to one lane while work is being done on the deck. I had the good fortune one day to be the first car in line waiting for the light to turn green, so I stuck my camera out the window and pointed it up. The photo above is probably the best of what I got.

Up next: Some more of those M/V Senator Stennis photos from last Wednesday.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

M/V Senator Stennis

In 1990, who would have thought I would absolutely need a computer that was connected to the rest of the world? A week ago this evening, my Internet service went out, and it came back on this morning. It was like there was a world going on out there, and I was not a part of it. it hurt.

But my service is almost back to normal now.

There will be stuff to catch up on here after I catch up on stuff I need to do to make money.

Meanwhile ...

Yesterday morning I had to go into Huntington for something. I went by the river as usual to see what was happening, and I saw the M/V Senator Stennis pushed up to the bank at Harris Riverfront Park. I got some pictures and left for an appointment. I came back and hour later and it was still there.

Mechanical problem? Medical emergency? No, just a crew change. I guess the boat got their early or the new crew got there late. Either way, it was nice to get some pictures from an angle that's normally not open to me.

So if you were aboard the Stennis yesterday and you saw the guy in the dark blue shirt walking up and down the riverbank getting pictures, yeah, that was me.

I got several good pictures, but I have to get back to earning a living now.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

M/V Chuck Zebula

While my photo posting is limited until I find or replace my card reader, allow me to link to a video my son Adam shot today of the M/V Chuck Zebula passing Huntington WV.

While most boats I've seen the past week or so have moved kind of slowly. The Zebula today was moving at pretty good clip, and it was pushing barges loaded to 10 feet or more.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Cargo trends, second quarter 2015

Here's a chart I made of movements of various cargoes on the Ohio River in the second quarter of this year.

Petroleum because of activity in the Utica and Marcellus shales of the upper Ohio.

Coal because it's the dominant commodity moved on most of the river.

And total traffic for obvious reasons.

Ohio River Barge Traffic

Second Quarter

Thousands of tons

TOTAL 2QPct Change
Locks and DamPetroleumCoalTOTALPetroleumCoalTOTAL
New Cumberland779.54,683.507,859.4014%-13%-3%
Pike Island1,120.004,919.608,550.1039%-5%5%
Willow Island1,168.206,570.8011,089.7027%1%7%
LD 521,944.304,238.6022,052.9024%-23%1%
LD 531,976.202,699.0019,847.6020%-6%7%

Looking at the numbers, it's no wonder boats are less frequent than they were a few years ago, and it's no wonder some boats I'm used to seeing on the Ohio now run on the Upper Mississippi and the Illinois.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Coal industry woes, 8/7/2015

Coal is the dominant cargo carried on most of the Ohio River. It's common to hear talk here in West Virginia about Obama's War on Coal or the EPA's War on Coal. My thoughts on that below.

The New York Times has run a short piece giving one writer's thoughts about the decline of the coal industry, looking at how market forces rather than government edicts have put a big hurt on the big coal companies.

From my perspective, the "War on Coal" has gone on in one form or another for at least forty years. In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, I covered several public hearings where someone wanted to build a coal tipple and the neighbors protested against it, from Clifton WV to Crown City OH to Haverhill OH and elsewhere. I also covered events regarding a coal dock in a residential and industrial neighborhood of Ironton OH.

A few years ago, I did a piece on how a lot of people in the Pacific Northwest view coal as a toxic material they don't want to see. That article was based on proposals to build coal ports on the Pacific Ocean to give Powder River Basin coal cheaper access to Asian markets.

Closer to my home, a few years back people in the Westmoreland neighborhood didn't want coal barges being tied up on the other side of the floodwall from them, but they didn't complain about coal trains going through their neighborhood 24/7. I always figured they got more coal dust from the trains than they would have from the barges, but what do I know?

Complicating that was the fact for part of that time I wrote editorials for the local paper. While I took two weeks of vacation one summer, someone wrote a piece saying the proposed coal dock would be bad for that neighborhood. I had no input into that editorial, but when I came back to work, I had to run with the stand someone else had taken. That's part of the sausage-making process known as local daily journalism. 

Ferry photos

There's nothing like being ready to turn everything off and go to bed when you remember you have laundry that has to be done tonight. So you dig into your recent archives and look for photos that will make three, four or five days of blog entries soon. Like ferries.

I got to visit three of the four Ohio River ferries this summer. The one at Cave-in-Rock, Ill., was too far away, but Sistersville, Augusta and Anderson were within driving range, so I shot a hundred or so photos of them for use in The Waterways Journal and The State Journal. Each publication bought one photo, so I have plenty left over. Some are utilitarian, some are human interest and some can be a bit artsy. Some, almost so.

So, my next theme week could well be Ferry Week.

Oh well, the laundry's ready for the dryer.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Queen of the Mississippi is moving

I've never managed to be in the right place when the passenger boat Queen of the Mississippi was in my area, and soon it may be too late. The company that owns the boat is moving it to the Pacific Northwest.

But another boat of the same name will replace this one.

As if this writing, the Queen of the Mississippi is on the Upper Mississippi. The American Eagle is on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

News roundup, 8/5/2015

This is a pretty heavy day for Ohio River-related news, so here goes:

A Facebook friend and I had a conversation several days ago about flying personal drones over the Ohio River. Among other things, I said I would not want to fly one near a boat pushing a barge full of hazardous material, and I would not want to fly one in downtown Huntington and accidentally fly it into a building.

It looks like someone had too much fun with a drone in downtown Cincinnati and something bad happened. The article says no one was hurt, but I would not want to be the guy who has to pay for the damages.

# # #

For most of my life, I've looked at various kinds of litter on the banks of the Ohio River. Back in the 1980s, there were a lot more tires on rims and a lot more small propane bottles in the trash I found. On the bright side, my nephews and I had fun using old tennis balls we found in the trash left behind by high water. The brown, partly deflated balls were nice to use for batting practice.

Lately, it seems most of the litter up here has been beverage containers: beer, soft drinks, sports drinks and the like. And it seems to have gotten worse in recent years.

So here's something about how the state of Ohio is using a piece of heavy equipment to remove river trash.

There is a distressing paragraph in this article, however.

In terms of the volume of garbage in the rivers, the Ohio River is one of the worst in the country,” said Pregracke. “It really needs a full-court press for any change to happen.”

I hope the Ohio is the worst in the country, because I would hate to think there is a river whose neighbors treat it worse than the Ohio's does.

# # #

An old flatboat was discovered on the lower part of the river 15 years ago, and it's still in the mud because of the expense of removing it, the technical difficulties of preserving it and the lack of a place to put it.
# # #

This year's unusually long high water season throughout the Mississippi River system had led to an unusually large dead zone at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico along the Texas and Louisiana coasts. The dead zone is caused in part by widespread use of fertilizers on farmland throughout the basin. Environmental scientists call it non-point source pollution. It's non-point because it comes from small amounts of material in a wide area as opposed to a pipe dumping stuff into a river at a specific point.

So what's going to be the long-term result of this, if any? We'll have to see how it works through the scientific community and the courts.

Monday, August 3, 2015

M/V R.H. Beymer

Another boat cruising past Huntington. This one was a small one, and it was traveling lightboat.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

M/V Detroit 8/2/2015

Adam and I saw the Detroit coming down the river today, so we got a few pictures as it passed Huntington.

More photos of the Detroit are at my Flickr photostream.

A bridge too dark

It seems the Bridge of Honor between Pomeroy, Ohio, and Mason, W.Va. -- in the upper end of the Robert C. Byrd pool -- has gone dark and local officials want the purple lights turned back on. (I always thought they were purple, but technically they are indigo, according to the article).

I don't know about other regions along the Ohio River, but around here people expect their cable stay bridges to be lit at night. It's hard telling what's going on behind the scenes with this. But the bridge did look good in its indigo colors when it was new.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sunrise over Proctorville

Three things you learn living along the Ohio River:

The sun always rises in the east.

There are utility poles and utility lines everywhere.

If you're within a mile of a bridge, you're probably within a mile of a McDonald's. Not always, but more than likely.