Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ingram closing Huntington dock

There was an article in The Herald-Dispatch this morning that Ingram Marine will close its rail-to-river terminal here in Huntington WV on May 31. The article quoted Ingram officials as giving several reasons for the closing, including lack of long-term contracts and not being able to do continuous blending of coal.

The fact the terminal will close saddened me but it didn’t surprise me. For several weeks, I’ve been watching statistics related to cargo movement on the Ohio River, and they have not been good.

It started when a person asked me why she saw a lot of barges tied up to the river bank in this area. It intensified when I noticed that many of my favorite towboats were not moving on the river. Some of them are idle -- all tied up with no place to go.

This chart shows the change in tonnage at the two locks and dams closest to Huntington. I chose these locks partly because they are the ones I am most familiar with and partly because they are the first ones above and below the mouth of the Big Sandy, where a lot of coal comes out for movement on the Ohio.

Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam 

1/1 to 5/21/06 1/1 to 5/21/08 1/1 to 5/21/09 Pct chg, 08-09 Pct chg, 06-09

Coal 15,591,081 12,070,237 11,361,419 -5.87% -27.13% 

Other 8,122,427 6,953,216 4,992,268 -28.20% -38.54% 

Total 23,713,508 19,023,453 16,353,687 -14.03% -31.04%  

Greenup Locks and Dam  

1/1 to 5/21/06 1/1 to 5/21/08 1/1 to 5/21/09 Pct chg, 08-09 Pct chg, 06-09 

Coal 17,189,381 12,685,718 12,386,497 -2.36% -27.94% 

Other 11,248,337 9,497,345 7,628,744 -19.67% -32.18% 

Total 28,437,718 22,183,063 20,015,241 -9.77% -29.62%  

Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

You can see that tonnage is down this year compared to last year, and it’s way down compared to the recent highs recorded just three years ago.

A person who knows the local river industry told me recently that boats are tied up and crews are laid off, but that was before the Ingram announcement.

The Ingram loading dock was formerly owned and operated by Ohio River Co. Ingram acquired Ohio River Co. a few years ago, and I suppose it took over the dock. I remember getting a tour of the place in the 1980s. Around 1980, Ohio River Co. installed a rotary dump. A rail car loaded with 100 to 120 tons of coal would go into the dock and be rotated maybe 150 degrees. Its entire load would fall into a pit, and a conveyor would load the coal onto a barge.

Many times, CSX trains going to the dock would block 5th and 3rd avenues in Huntington. Those are four-lane, one-way streets carrying U.S. east and west, respectively, through town. The trains are annoying at times, but they represented jobs and Huntington’s role as a major shipping point for coal. It’s two or three dozen miles from Huntington to the nearest active coal mine, but the city and this region are important points for moving coal.

By the way, Ingram is one of the largest haulers of cargo on this part of the Ohio River. I don't have the exact stats handy, but you can figure Ingram and AEP are the top two, based on how often I see their boats out there.

Under the East End bridge

I had to go out early this morning to drop one person off and pick one person up. On the way back home, we passed through the Guyandotte neighborhood of Huntington. The clouds were low and gray, and I wanted to get a picture of the East End bridge against that background.

I went to the boat ramp and to the spot between the last land pier and the river and got a few verticals. I turn the camera back around and snapped a couple of horizontals, including this one.

The image has not been altered or corrected. It's how the camera saw the scene before I started playing with the various settings. I was going to get a few more photos, but I happened to look to the west and saw this big gray curtain hanging over everything. I knew it wasn't fog, so I ran up the hill to my car. It was sprinkling when I got inside. A few seconds later, the rain came down heavy.

A few months ago, I got a photo similar to this one, but it was in the fog. All you could see were the bridge deck and the pier, and their reflections in the water. You couldn't see at bit of the Ohio shore.

mv. Tri-State

This is one of my favorite towboats on the Ohio River -- the Tri-State, owned by Marathon Petroleum Co. I rode this boat from Parkersburg WV to South Point OH on May 10, 1980, I think. That would have been 12 years to the day before my daughter was born.

At the time I rode it, the Tri-State was owned by Ashland Oil, which later became Ashland Inc., which later sold its refining and marketing operations to Marathon.

For a long time, I rarely saw the Tri-State around here. This year I've seen it at least three times, with two of them being at the mouth of the Big Sandy River.

This photo was taken along WV 2 near Greenbottom in Cabell County.

First entry

Welcome to the universe of a guy who grew up along the Ohio River and whose earliest memories revolve around it. I'll be writing about and photographing the river, bridges, dams, boats, river towns, river roads and whatever else involves America's greatest river.