Sunday, May 30, 2010

The first summer Sunday (Updated)

From the look of parking lots at boat ramps today ....

... you would have thought this was Memorial Day weekend.

There were plenty of pleasure boats on the Ohio River today.

The weather is better, the river is down from a week ago and the water is cleaner -- more blue-green than mud brown.

But my favorite view was how waves moved past this buoy.

UPDATE: With the first weekend of summer, accidents are bound to happen.

In Evansville, a woman was found dead in the river after a personal watercraft overturned. Authorities have not said whether the body they recovered was of the woman who is missing.

And here near Huntington, five men were rescued after their boat overturned.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Buckeye haze

Oh, it was hazy today. I was at least two miles away as the mv. Buckeye State was making a tow at Gallipolis, Ohio. It was at the limit of my camera equipment, but I could see the boat from where I was, despite the haze.

A barn

Today on a trip down Ohio Route 7 along the Ohio River, I stopped at the cemetery where my father is buried. As I was leaving, I saw this barn in the late afternoon light. I like barns.

Markland Locks and Dam

I didn't have much time to spend here at the Markland Locks and Dam. I kind of wish I had, but I had a lot of miles to go, and I was kind of tired from spending most of the day in the sun with a camera bag on my left shoulder.

The Markland Locks and Dam was the first of two on the Ohio River to have a bridge across it. And I believe it was the second to have a hydroelectric power plant built on one end. It's the only dam between Louisville and Cincinnati.

Three on the river

The SuperAmerica downbound.

The Wayne C, pushing six empties.

Here the Wayne C, right, encounters the upbound Pamela H.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More from Rising Sun

Here are a few more photos from yesterday's christening of the mv. Hoosier State at Rising Sun, Indiana. First, four from me.

First, the boat decked out in bunting and streamers and such.

Another shot of Adam steering the boat, with lessons from the pilot, first name Joe, last name I didn't get.

After he steered the boat, they gave him a ball cap that says "AEP River Operations" on it. He took it to school today to show it off. Here Adam gets his final few pictures.

Now, four from Adam and his new point-and-shoot camera.

Here's the Hoosier State as seen from the shelter at the top of the Ohio River bank there at the park. This composition was his idea, not mine.

And another view.

Here's the rear of the boat as seen from the pilothouse.

And he took this while we were out on the river. This is river as the head of the boat travels through it.

I told him that if I have a good job next  year and he takes good care of this camera, he can expect a better one next summer.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A very special day

Adam and I attended the dedication and open house of the AEP towboat mv. Hoosier State. Enough happened to fill several blog entries, which it probably will. Today was a day of escalating surprises.

First, we enjoyed the open house.

We couldn't attend the christening ceremony itself, as it was for AEP employees and invited guests only, but we staked out a spot to see the champagne bottle being smashed.

As we were walking to the car, and AEP employee ran up to invite us on a short ride on the boat, which we accepted. Here's Adam on the starboard tow knee.

The high point came when ....

Yeah, that's Adam steering the boat. He's making a 180-degree turn to bring the boat back to the dock.

It was a very good day. More later.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Biomass update

The most recent large-scale attempt to building a biomass-fueled power plant along the Ohio River -- in this case converting an existing plant from coal to biomass -- is meeting some opposition.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Boats on the wall

If you work on the Steven J. Mason, AEP Mariner, Buckeye State or Detroit, you might like to know that my 10-year-old son, Adam, has a picture of your boat taped to the wall beside his bed. He has notified me that he plans to raid my stash for more pictures.

He will probably want the R. Clayton McWhorter, Linda Reed, Paula Ruble, Pamela Dewey, West Virginia, Mountain State, Charleston, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ronald E. Wagenblast, Henry J. Soudelier III, George King, Hoosier State, AEP Leader, Jincy, Neil N. Diehl, D.A. Grimm, Bill Stile, MAP Runner, Speedway, Tri-State, Valvoline, SuperAmerica, Paul G. Blazer and Leonard L. Whittington, among others.

There will have to be at least one Dravo Viking, one Dravo 3200, one old St. Louis Ship boat, one more recent St. Louis Ship boat, one Jeffboat and one from Quality Shipyard, among others. And he'll probably want one each from Ingram, AEP, Crounse, Madison Coal & Supply, Campbell, Marathon Petroleum, Marquette and a few other companies whose names escape me right now. My apologies if you pass Ohio River Mile 308 frequently and I didn't mention you.

That's going to be one busy wall.

Final days for an old bridge

I had it in my mind that demolition of the old 5th Avenue bridge over the Guyandotte River at Huntington, W.Va., was to start today, Monday, but it looks like someone got a head start on removing the old pavement.

The bridge has been closed for several years, waiting for money for a replacement.

The shadow across the pile of asphalt in the foreground comes from the entrance ramp for the East End bridge over the Ohio River.

This bridge was built a gazillion years ago. Adam and I took a final walk across it on Sunday. We saw a lot of twisted and rusting steel members. I  told Adam that about a year ago, I went on the river bank under the bridge and saw a lot of support members rusted through and hanging down from the bridge deck, which couldn't have been good.

I hate to see old steel truss bridges go, but this one's end came long ago.

A renamed barge

Here's something I didn't expect to see, because it's something I never really thought about.

This is an AEP barge that was tied up at Virginia Point Park at Kenova, W.Va., on Sunday afternoon. The old "M/G" had to refer to M/G Transport Services, one of those long-gone towing companies on the Ohio River, like Union Mechling and G&C Towing. I remember M/G for having the white boats with dark blue pilothouses, and sometimes with nameboards that were almost impossible to read from shore without binoculars.

But I have lots of pictures of those boats anyway.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Two boats from the passenger seat

I had a good morning and afternoon out with Adam before we got down to the pleasant chore of grocery shopping.

Among other things, we crossed one bridge in Huntington twice to take advantage of seeing some boats in the area. I drove, and he took the photos.

First, here is the Henry J. Soudelier III (I'm 94.7 percent sure of this) going under the 6th Street bridge at Huntington, W.Va. I like how the bridge is reflected in the water and how you can see the East End bridge in the background. The official name of the bridge is the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, in honor of the senior senator and the person to serve the most years in the U.S. Senate.

Here's the mv. Indiana at the barge fleeting area right below the West 17th Street bridge, officially known as the Nick J. Rahall II Bridge.

Rahall has been the member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing this area since 1977. The other U.S. senator representing Huntington, Jay Rockefeller, has not yet seen fit  to have his name added to any structure, agency or whatever in the Huntington area.

And that's the closest thing to a political comment that needs to be made on that subject.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Coming down

It looks like the old Bellaire Toll Bridge at Wheeling is coming down after all. No schedule has been released though, according to The Wheeling News-Register.

I hate to see old bridges come down, but it has to be done.

mv. Mountain State at RCB

Here are photos of the mv. Mountain State as it approached and entered the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam on the Ohio River this past Thursday afternoon/evening.

First, in the lower approaches, at about the 2,500-foot marker. These were taken from the West Virginia side, with the sun about to set behind the Ohio hills.

This photo didn't work the way I'd hoped. The sun was behind clouds, the water was too brown to reflect a lot of light, etc. etc. etc.

Here are two deckhands on the front of the tow as the Mountain State approaches the lower gates.

And I believe this is the boat as it enters the locks, as the sign in the background says "550."

We had a good afternoon. We got to see three boats up close, and Adam got a lesson in shutter speeds, apertures, depth of field and -- very important -- choosing your shots when you have only a few left on your camera.

Friday, May 21, 2010

mv. Sylvia H at RCB

Here are four photos we got of the Sylvia H as it approached the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam Thursday evening, including one of two deckhands out on the lead barges.

mv. Oliver C. Shearer at RCB

Adam and I went up to the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, formerly known as the Gallipolis Locks and Dam, yesterday evening to watch the mv. Mountain State enter the locks and get some pictures. He especially needed to see if his late grandfather's film camera works good enough for him to take it to Rising Sun, Ind., next week for the dedication of the mv. Hoosier State.

We got to see three boats closeup. The Sylvia H and the Oliver C. Shearer arrived before the Mountain State. So, we got pictures of all three. I'm putting some up in separate posts, but not in order.

First up is the Oliver C. Shearer.

Here, it comes into view. That's the M&P Polymers dock on the left and mooring cells for the locks on the right.

And here are some as it passes our position and gets ready to move into the locks once the Sylvia H has locked through.

At this location, the Ohio River flows north to south. These photos were taken in late afternoon, so the sun was in my face and on the other side of  the boats rather than at my back. Despite all that, I'd say these are the best photos of the Shearer that I've taken in the past 30 years.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Three news stories from upriver

The old Bellaire Toll Bridge at Wheeling, W.Va., was closed to traffic in 1991. Its approaches were removed, and, for a variety of reasons, it has not been removed. Now there is talk that it could finally come down, according to the Wheeling newspapers. Or maybe not.

I'll admit that I hope it doesn't come down until I can get up there and get some photos. There are a lot of photo-worthy bridges at Wheeling and above, but this one in particular has my interest. That's because it looks a lot like the old 6th Street Bridge that crossed the Ohio River at Huntington, W.Va., from the 1920s until it was closed in 1994 and demolished in 1995.


The Ohio River as "Marine Highway One" to take advantage of containerized shipping? Okay, we have a few years to talk about it and to determine if it's feasible or likely.


The State Journal has a story on what's going on with plans to improve the locks and dams on the lower Monongahela River.

Two Mountain States

I was getting a few pictures of my favorite bridge. I'd finished, and I was getting into the car when I saw some coal barges through the trees. Then I noticed the letters "AEP" on them. Then I heard the sound of the boat's engines. It was one that I recognized.

So, I got a few photos of the mv. Mountain State this morning. Here's one. Note that in the background, behind the bridge, is West Virginia, the Mountain State. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

End of the line for a power plant

A small coal-fired power plant along the Ohio River near Marietta, Ohio, is to be shut down no later than Dec. 31, 2012, the Columbus Dispatch reports. The Richard H. Gorsuch power station is owned by American Municipal Power.

Fewer floods in recent years

Here's an idea I stole from a piece in The Evansville Courier & Press today. In the Community Comments section, a fellow named Michael Roberts wrote about the Ohio River. He mentioned that he is addicted to the National Weather Service Hydrologic Prediction Service Web site.

So, like Roberts, I went to that site and looked up the flood crests on record for Huntington, W.Va., where I live. I wanted to see if there had been any patterns in recent years regarding flooding on the Ohio in my area. I found the numbers, copied them to an Excel spreadsheet and did some sorting. Here is the distribution of the top 64 flood crests listed:

1919 and before, 3
1920s: 0
1930s: 5
1940s: 9
1950s: 11
1960s: 10
1970s: 10
1980s: 9
1990s: 4
2000s: 3

That's only the what, not the why. But it did confirm my suspicion that we haven't had many floods in this part of the river in about 20 years. That's one reason the flood of 1997, which ranked 10th on this list, was so memorable. That and the fact it was the biggest flood since 1955, and a lot of people -- me included -- don't have memories that go back that far.

Other than the bulge in the 1950s, this chart would look like a typical bell curve.

Oh, and I recommend Roberts' piece on its own merits, too, for what that's worth.

Another thing: It looks like the river at Huntington won't get back to normal level until this weekend. When it does, I hope the weather is good enough to dry it out soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three boats at Point Pleasant on a gray day

Here are three photos I got in the Point Pleasant, W.Va., area on an overcast Sunday evening.

First, the D.A. Grimm as it was making tow.

Here's the Joe T heading upriver for something before coming back down to assist the Grimm.

And here's the Charleston turning from the Ohio River into the Kanawha River with 12 barges. That's the Silver Memorial Bridge in the background.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Coal ash disposal

Companies that operate coal-fired power plants along the Ohio River and elsewhere are looking at two proposed guidelines issued by the EPA last week regarding coal ash ponds and the disposal of solid material left from burning coal. Details are in the Columbus Dispatch.

If I were still a newspaper writer, I'd love to be all over this story, considering how many coal-fired plants are within a 90-minute drive of where I live near Huntington, W.Va. When most people think of burning coal, they think of those big, tall smokestacks. They don't see the big ash ponds or the huge landfills that take the sludge left over from the machinery that controls air pollution. What doesn't go into the air goes into a landfill, not counting the ash that is used in building materials.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pamela Dewey in South America (Updated)

Well, Adam was a bit bummed tonight. We had heard the mv. Pamela Dewey was headed to South America, and tonight I found a photo of it and three other boats posted by Gustavo Di Iorio.

"That was my second-favorite Viking," Adam said in explaining his disappointment to his mother. She tunes out a lot of conversations Adam and I have, by the way. For some reason, she's not interested in some of the things that fascinate him, such as the difference in length between the AEP Mariner and the Mountain State.

But I still have several photos of the Pamela Dewey on the Ohio River he can look at from time to time.

UPDATE: Actually, the AEP Mariner and the Hoosier State are the same length, according the AEP River Transportation website.

For some reason, Adam has had it in his head for a while that the two boats are of different lengths. When he got home from school today at 3 p.m., I told him the AEP Mariner  was in the area, but that we weren't going out to chase it and photograph it. The river is up, the light is bad and we plan to attend the dedication of the Hoosier State next week anyway. We looked up the boats on the AEP site, and found that they are the same length. Adam shrugged off his error and moved on to his next order of business, which was finding an after-school snack.

Busy river for a Sunday

This was a really busy Sunday on the river here in my area. I saw the Mary Harter, a Crounse boat in the distance, a 1960s-era Dravo in the distance, the Titan (I think), the D.A. Grimm, the R.L. Carter Jr., the Charleston, the Lelia C. Shearer and another Campbell boat. That's a lot more than a normally see on a Sunday trip from Huntington to Point Pleasant, W.Va.

I don't know if a lot of coal is moving now or what, but for some reason the Ohio River was busy with towboats today.

UPDATE: Here is is shortly after 9 p.m. I just checked vessel locations. At least 13 boats locked through Greenup upbound today, and at least 7 locked through RC Byrd downbound. Yeah, that looks pretty busy.

Work at Emsworth

The Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave a media tour of repair work under way at the Emsworth Locks and Dams last week.

The Pittsbugh Post-Gazette and the Beaver County Times were among those in attendance.

There's no doubt the locks at Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery need to be replaced, and perhaps the dams, too, but where would the money come from?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Big tows

When I wrote a few days ago about a 25-barge tow I saw in the Huntington, W.Va., area, a reader said to watch for more of them this summer. Well, they're already on the river.

I've seen them n vessel locations for a few days. This morning, I counted three tows of 18 barges or more above the Smithland Locks and Dam. The Craig E. Philip was in Greenup Pool pushing 25, the Harllee Branch Jr. was in Meldahl Pool pushing 25, and the Louise S. was in Markland Pool pushing 18.

It's easy to guess why companies are pushing more barges with one boat. What it means for other folks on the river, such as recreational boaters, I don't know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

mv. James R. Morehead

I was stuck in Huntington for a little while today. It seems that while I was town taking care of a couple of routine matters, the brakes on my car decided they didn't want to work the way they should, so I drove v e r y  s l o w l y  to a place that could repair them. So I walked a ways up on the Robert C. Byrd Bridge to see a boat coming up the river.

The boat turned out to the the James R. Morehead of AEP.

I've been on the bridge for lots of boats coming upriver, but it's always interesting when the barges and the boat emerge from under the bridge. The thing I like the best is the sound. You see and hear the lead barges for a minute or two before you see and hear the boat.

I like this photo from high and behind.

And here's a wide view of the boat passing downtown Huntington.

Monday, May 10, 2010

mv. Hoosier State dedication

The dedication ceremony for the AEP towboat Hoosier State will be on May 26 at Rising Sun, Ind. The ceremony is open to the public. The boat will be open for tours beginning at 10 a.m. The dedication ceremony starts at 2 p.m.

If I can scrape up the gas money and if there is nowhere else I need to be, I'll be there. Right now, I'd say there's a 25 percent chance. Oh, Adam has told his teacher he might be absent that day.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A very bad day

Debt markets and alternative energy

A couple of years ago, a lot of alternative fuels projects were announced for sites along the Ohio River and elsewhere. At the time, I was a bit skeptical, as in my days as a newspaper reporter I had seen several such projects go nowhere. I particularly remembered a tire recycling project for Portsmouth, Ohio, and I covered the opening and eventual closing of the South Point Ethanol plant. Not that South Point Ethanol had gone nowhere, but economics and market conditions were difficult from the beginning.

So when I came across this little piece about a biomass project at Wellsville, Ohio, being cancelled, I was not surprised. But the reason was different from the one I expected. First, an explanation of the project, lifted from the Baard Energy website.

Baard Energy has commenced the development process to build a 53,000 barrel per day Coal and Biomass to Liquids (CBTL) facility at Wellsville, Ohio.  Located on the Ohio River, the Wellsville site has certain characteristics that give it an extremely high probability of long term success, including access to coal and biomass supply, and proximity to liquid fuel markets.  The facility's unique design and operation will allow it to capture and ultimately sequester at least 85% of all carbon dioxide produced. The plant will be capable of producing synthetic jet fuel, diesel fuel and other valued chemical feedstocks. 

Now, this from a paragraph posted by Ohio Citizen Action. It's from correspondence between Baard Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy in February 2009.

Debt markets in chaos: In today’s environment, there is no debt available to projects like Ohio River Clean Fuels [the coal refinery]. Debt markets are essentially closed to all large-scale project finance companies, even without considering the technology integration risk. Until debt markets markedly improve, the prospects for raising commercial debt for Ohio River Clean Fuels are dim. It is unclear when conditions will improve.

I'll let the readers of this blog draw their own conclusions. I'm not willing to do so until I do more research.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Big load coming

Back in 1985, the Corps of Engineers or the Coast Guard issued an advisory to navigators to be careful with oversized barge tows. It seems several boats in the Huntington area were pushing so many barges that other companies were complaining. I did a story, and the copy desk used the headline I suggested: Ohio River barge tows getting too big for its bridges.

This evening, Adam and I saw the first oversized tow in the Huntington area that I had seen for a long time. The mv. Jackson H. Randolph was coming down the river pushing 25 coal barges. By the way, they were loaded to a draft of 10 feet. I always thought the normal depth for a loaded coal barge was nine feet, as that is the official channel depth of the Ohio River. Lately I've noticed a lot of barges loaded to 10 feet. It's probably been going one for a while, but I hadn't noticed  until January.

Anyway, as seen from the Robert C. Byrd Bridge, this is the Jackson H. Randolph heading into the evening sun.

Here it is going under the bridge. I like this shot. This is such a handsome boat. The folks who ran the Ohio River Co. knew how to pick boat designs for maximum aesthetic effect, and the Ingram Barge folks know how to pick colors.

And here it is heading into the setting sun.

As the Jackson H. Randolph was going under the bridge downbound, the Stephen T was emerging from under the bridge upbound.

And that's about all I have to say about that. For now.