Thursday, December 15, 2016

Update on New Cumberland

Today I had an email conversation with Jeff Hawk, public affairs officer for the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, about the situation at New Cumberland. He's had a busy day fielding questions from media and others, as you can imagine.

Here's the update he provided on the current situation:

"Crews are working right now to isolate the source of the failure. They are capping lines and then testing them. We are working to re-open on Saturday, if all goes well. That's the temp fix. The long-term fix will be months away if we receive emergency funding. We have submitted a funding request up to HQ USACE. There is a queue of tows, about 10, awaiting passage, many hauling coal. "

Then I asked about the permanent outage in the auxiliary lock. People have spent all year talking about the possibility of a major failure at Emsworth and Montgomery, which are a couple of decades older than New Cumberland. New Cumberland, along with Greenup, was one of the first all-new locks and dams to be built in the 1950s. His reply:

49 years ago

One year from today is the 50th anniversary of the collapse of the Silver Bridge.

A postcard I bought in Gallipolis a few years after the bridge collapsed.

The bridge connected Point Pleasant, W.Va., with Kanauga, Ohio, an unincorporated community just north of Gallipolis, Ohio. To say the bridge's demise was traumatic to both communities is an understatement.

As it happens, the collapse occurred on a Friday evening. Next year, December 15 falls on a Friday. I assume plans are in the works to mark next year's anniversary. Many of the people most associated with the search and recovery efforts have passed away, but many people who are still alive can tell you where they were when they heard the news, just as my mother did regarding Pearl Harbor, some people do about the JFK assassination and some people today do about the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion and 9/11.

When some people talk about the disaster that took 46 lives, they have to bring in the Mothman. My own theory is that the bridge collapse was so bad that the Mothman foolishness ended that night and came back only after the pain of loss eased a bit.

A point of business trivia: The Silver Bridge's location was one reason a restaurant owner by the name of Bob Evans became so successful.

A lot has been written about the Silver Bridge, and more will be written. Many of the reasons we have safe bridges today goes back to what happened 49 years ago. We'll leave it there for now.