Monday, December 31, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Made in China ... not yet

The other day I was thinking about how the most recent round of new towboats on the Ohio River has pretty much come to an end. AEP, Marathon Petroleum and Crounse have taken delivery of most or all of the new boats they had ordered, and I don't know when we'll see another wave of new boats, at least on my part of the river.

Then I saw this photo on Flickr. It wasn't so much the boat itself that drew my attention, but the comment. A commenter said this particular boat, photographed by a pilot who lives and works in South America, was made in China. That brought to mind the Dravo Vikings that were built on the upper Ohio in the 1980s and shipped to China for work there. I've heard they've been worked hard and are in not the best shape now. But I wondered if the boat in the photo was a new one or, like several boats that once ran the Ohio but are now in South America, is an older one that was sold to South America after its work days in China were done. The comment says "new" but a used car can be someone else's new car. Still, the pilothouse exterior is different and the towing knees are thin by modern American fashion.

I don't know, and if anyone does know, please pass the word along.

I guess China has become was Japan was in the 1980s -- an unbeatable, formidable Asian economic superpower that threatens America's dominance. But no one is that worried about Japan nowadays, as it has its own problems, both economic and demographic. China could well be headed in the same direction. We'll just have to see.

Friday, December 28, 2012

More on the Mississippi

American Waterways Operators sent out this advisory today on Mississippi River water levels. It makes me wish I had the money and time to get out there and report from the scene. But that's the first thing I learned about economics: tradeoffs between unlimited desires and limited resources.

In an effort to keep you apprised of the ever-changing hydrograph forecasts, yesterday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released water storage again (first release was on December 15) from Carlyle Lake located on the Kaskaskia River near St. Louis to support the continuation of navigation on the Mississippi River.   
The latest projections indicate that this water release, along with the current weather forecast, will cause the river gauge at Thebes to reach “3” and falling (dropping below 10 feet) around January 7; to reach “2” and falling (dropping below 9 feet) around January 15, and to reach “1” and falling  (dropping below 8 feet) around January 23.  The Corps also suggests that its rock pinnacle removal efforts may begin to have an impact on the controlling depths around January 20, but that is still to be determined. 
When the gauge drops below a certain point, the Coast Guard reduces draft by one foot (or requires a minimum of one foot of under-keel clearance) to provide an adequate safety margin according to current rules. 
The full majority of towboats cannot operate at less than a 9-foot draft, so the majority of navigation will cease on or around mid-January according to this latest forecast without more water.
The continued uncertainty regarding what drafts will be available continues to choke freight movements just as much as the low water itself.  Without certainty that the water will be there when barges reach Thebes, shippers continue to light-load based on worst-case scenarios, or continue to cancel  trips altogether.  The channel at Thebes remains closed for 16 hours of the day, and only open 8 to towboats/shippers. 
WCI, AWO and other stakeholders continue to press the White House, Congress and the States for assurances that the water will be there when barge shipments arrive in order to prevent further economic loss. 

Shutdown loomijng on the Mississippi?

This is from the Mississippi River, not the Ohio River, but it's still significant for people who watch the transportation industry. Here is a news release issued by American Waterways Operators on Dec. 27:

ARLINGTON, VA – Late Christmas Eve, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advised industry of the most current 28-day weather and water forecast for the Mississippi River area near Thebes, Illinois, south of St. Louis, where rock pinnacle removal work is taking place.  The forecast suggests that commerce on the Mississippi River could come to an effective halt earlier than expected in the New Year, around January 3 or 4.  Earlier forecasts had suggested that the congressionally authorized nine-foot navigation channel could remain in operation until perhaps the middle of January.
The latest forecast calls for the Mississippi River gauge at Thebes to be at 3 feet and falling on or around January 3-4, with vessel drafts limited to 8 feet. The forecast for the river gauge to reach to 2 feet and falling will be on or around January 12-13, allowing only a 7-foot maximum vessel draft. It is estimated that the river will reach a reading of 1 foot and falling on or around January 19, which equates to 6 feet of navigable depth. The majority of towboats require a 9-foot draft to operate and only a very small number of towing vessels can operate at 8- or 7-foot drafts.
Stakeholders continue to urge the Administration to release a minimal amount of water from the Missouri River reservoirs (4,000 cfs or 1% of current storage in the reservoir system) to avert this effective shutdown of the Mississippi River to barge transportation. While the Corps and the Coast Guard have said that they have no plans to close the river, this latest forecast and falling water levels will preclude navigation because towboats will be unable to transit the “bottleneck reach” between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.
“The Corps’ rock pinnacle removal and dredging work and our collective prayers for rain have not produced enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River and so the Administration must act to avert a closure,” said Michael J. Toohey, President & CEO, Waterways Council, Inc.  “We have been urging action all along and the time is now to release needed water or we will have run out of time on this national crisis,” he continued.  
“The nation’s shippers, farmers, manufacturers and operators have been feeling the impacts of this emergency, with cancelled orders, lost exports to market, and higher prices to consumers, but unless water is provided now to avert a shutdown, those impacts will increase significantly.  Unless the Administration takes action now, the nation risks 60 days or more without waterborne commerce on the mid-Mississippi River,” said Tom Allegretti, President & CEO, American Waterways Operators.  “We urge the White House to authorize the release of additional water immediately to maintain navigation on our country’s busiest and most important waterway.”
This potential supply-chain disruption could amount to a staggering loss for the U.S. economy, affecting nearly 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages in Mississippi River states as well as $7 billion in commodities in December and January alone, including:
·         Over 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion;
  • Over 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion;
  • 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth over $1.3 billion;
  • Over 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and,
  • 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.
“Thousands of the nation’s farmers, shippers, manufacturers and towboat operators urge action from President Obama to direct the Corps to release a small amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs over a short period of time to keep businesses open, exports and cargo moving, and Americans employed,” Toohey and Allegretti concluded.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

By rail or by barge

Today's Wall Street Journal had an article on how more crude oil is moving by rail and by barge, thanks to shale production and problems in getting pipeline capacity built.

Read it for yourself, but here are some highlights:

Oil shipments by barge from oil fields in the northern U.S. to refineries in the South are up from 3.8 million barrels in 2008 to 15.3 million in 2011. And while shipping by train is more expensive than by pipeline, even with the transport costs, U.S. crude is cheaper than foreign crude.

The river part deals mainly with the Mississippi, but I've written before that there should be crude oil fro the Utica shale moving on the Ohio River soon, from eastern Ohio to the Marathon refinery at Catlettsburg, Ky.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

More boat photos from Christmas Day

... in the Point Pleasant, W.Va., area.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas on the Ohio River

It's not really a Christmas tradition, but usually on Dec. 25 I like to go out to the river and see who's working this day. Someone has to be on the boats, I guess, and I have heard that some folks stop running for a little while to let the crew enjoy Christmas dinner, call home, rest and do whatever for a few hours.

I'll have more photos later this week, but here's one of two deckhands who have been out on the barges of the C.J. Queenan.

Again, more later in the week. It's getting late and I have to go back to work tomorrow.

Preserving two Ohio River islands

Efforts are in the design stages to protect two Ohio River islands in the Pittsburgh area.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Retreat from the River

The river's up, and there's not much moving when I'm out there with my camera. My ability to get out there is reduced lately because of busy-ness in my life and the fact that the weather and early darkness conspire against me.

I've been going through photos I've taken the past year or two and found some gems in there that I had forgotten about. As I review them, I may post a couple on here.

But it seems the good stuff on the Ohio River has taken a few days off just when I can spend a little time out there. Whine, whine, whine.

But my Marine is home for a few days of leave, so I have someone to spend some time with for now. He made Adam the happiest kid in seven states and the District of Columbia when he surprised him with a new Xbox.

That's how things are on this part of the Ohio River, circa mile 308. Have a good time tonight, tomorrow and in the next week. I'll be checking in and out as usual. Later.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Staying inside today if I can

There are some days that I wish I work on or beside the Ohio River. Today is not one of them.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A near disaster photographically

My camera has two memory cards. Yesterday I formatted one of them. The wrong one. The one with most of the photos I took of the gate lift at R.C. Byrd a couple of weeks ago. Lucky for me I had saved about 30 of the best ones to a flash drive, but I had not yet downloaded them, so 200 to 300 images were lost.


Two news items

Unrelated, but things I found in the news.

First, there are plans to move fracking wastewater by barge on the Ohio River to treatment plants or injection disposal wells. As I was reading this story, I got to thinking about the chlorine barges that go up and down the river without the knowledge of most people living on the banks.

Second, the new Milton-Madison bridge has reached a milestone in its construction. Someday, when I get caught up on my bills (hah!), I'll run down there and see the new and old bridge side-by-side for myself.

Bridge construction start

Plans call for construction of the two Ohio River bridges at Louisville to begin next summer.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Photo without comment

Amber Brittany and Mary K Cavarra

The motor vessel Amber Brittany is one of my favorite boats to photograph, even if it's rarely in a spot where I can get a few good shots. This evening, right around sunset, it was at the Campbell fleet at Henderson WV, right below the mouth of the Kanawha River. Too bad there's a narrow shoulder on a busy highway and a lot of leafless trees along the river bank, but I managed to get a couple of shots.

I like the Amber Brittany's color scheme as much as I do any other boat's on the river. Plus the lines of the boat are nice.

On the way back to Huntington, I stopped by the Gallipolis Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, and I saw the Ingram boat Mary K. Cavarra leaving. This is one shot I got as all around me was turning dark.

I'm not that familiar with this particular boat, but all I had to do was look at the size of the pilothouse and the arrangement of its front windows, and I said to myself, yep, that's a St. Louis Ship boat.

Gate lift, part 6

Final three.

First, the Corps towboat Kenneth Eddy as it assisted in the work.

With problems at the Ohio River locks the past few years, I've heard a lot about pintels. Well, this is the part that fits on the pintel at the bottom of the lock. This is a hemisphere that fits on another hemisphere down in the water, and it's what the gate pivots on as it opens and closes.

And I was told this part where, where you see the two pieces of metal join, will be replaced.

This was all done on a Thursday. The following day the other upper gate leaf was removed and placed beside the first. Sometime in late winter or early spring, when extensive repair work is finished, they will be placed back in the auxiliary lock and the lock will be placed back into service.

And for now, that's all I've got to say about this.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Gate lift, part 5

Next-to-last series of photos from the gate lift.

To start, they're going to lay the gate down on some wooden blocks in the parking lot.

Here is where something went wrong, and the gate leaf started to get away from them.

This is called the toaster or the toaster rack. Normally, when gates are removed for quick repairs, they are placed upright in this framework. The gate in the framework resembles bread in a toaster, thus its nickname.

After the failure on the first set of wood blocks, the crane moved up a bit and began to set the leaf down on the blocks that had been prepared for the second leaf.

And this time all went well.

 And now there are only three more photos to go.

Gate lift, part 4

We're almost done with photos from the gate lift at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam last week. There will be more tonight and the rest tomorrow morning.

This afternoon Adam and I plan to be at the Point Pleasant River Museum for the 45th anniversary observance of the Silver Bridge collapse. We're visiting family after that, and I don't know if we'll have anything to post from the event.

Anyway, on to the gate lift.

These guys were either welding something to the bottom of the gate leaf or cutting something off of it. I don't know which or why.

Again, more later.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Not fair

Bald eagles are becoming a more common sight in the Ohio Valley, although I myself have not seen one in the wild yet. But folks in Gallipolis, Ohio, have. Here are some photos they have taken of the bald eagle that has been seen in their riverfront park.

And I'll sit here wondering what I have to do to see an eagle.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gate lift, part 3

A few more, with perhaps two installments to go. But Adam has a seventh grade band concert tonight, so I can't make any promises on timing.

I like reflections.

And here we come up out of the water.*

I like the lines on this image.

And this one.

There were lots of opportunities to get shots of people at work.

I don't just like the lines on this image, but also how it shows the gate leaf was drying out.

* I read a long time ago that Appalachians are very prepositional people, as in "Get up out from under that table."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gate lift at RCByrd, Part 2

It's not unusual for the Army Corps of Engineers repair fleet to lift lock gates out of the river for repair work. It is unusual for me to be invited to come along and watch. Which is what I did last week.

I've already posted some. Here are a few more, with more to come in the next few days. Posting may be sporadic, as I have a full plate between now and Saturday night, but I'll get to them as I can.

Here, the spreader bar is lying in a parking lot and about to be lifted by the big huge crane that will in about an hour or so lift one of the lock gates.

Here's the spreader bar about to do its work.

The crane, known as the Henry J. Shreve, was so big that I couldn't get it in one photo unless I stood way back,.

Eye thingies have been welded to the gate leaf so the crane can lift it. Sorry, but "thingy" is the best I can do right now.

Watching and waiting to do their parts.

Cutting off the arm that swings the gate open and closed.

Next: the actual lifting of the gate.

Catching up on the news

Here's an opinion piece on the redevelopment of the riverfront at Owensboro, Ky.

As is my usual rule with opinion pieces, I pass along ones that might be of interest to blog readers. Linking to an opinion piece does not imply my endorsement of the opinions it contains.


In parts of West Virginia and Ohio, the development of gas and liquids from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields is a big topic of economic discussion. While a lot of people think of the natural gas from these fields, a number of companies are just as interested in the byproducts that come from the wells -- liquids that can be sold as feedstocks to chemical plants or for other uses.

That's where the Ohio River comes into play. Check out the lead in this story from the Herald-Star of Steubenvile, Ohio:

WEIRTON - A tanker barge loaded with a million gallons of natural gas liquids from a tank farm in the Half Moon Industrial Park is on its way to Houston - a "significant milestone" in the Weirton port's development, officials said Thursday.

I've done pieces on how crude oil from the Utica shale in Ohio will be shipped by barge to the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery at Catlettsburg, Ky. As coal deals with its problems, it looks like liquids from shale gas wells will take up some of the slack in the Ohio River shipping industry.


A bill has been introduced in Congress to designate the Fish and Wildlife Service as the lead agency to stop the spread of Asian carp on the inland waterways -- in this specific case, to keep them from reaching Pittsburgh.

The last I heard, they had made it up the Ohio River in significant numbers as far as the Markland Locks and Dam, although individual specimens have been found at places farther up the river.


The governors of Ohio and Kentucky are to meet next week to figure out how to get it done, namely upgrading the Brent Spence Bridge at Cincinnati. One of the big holdups seems to be whether there will be tolls placed on the bridge to pay for or help pay for the work. Ohio Gov. John Kasich says tolls are necessary and would be used only to pay for the construction work. When the work is paid for, the tolls will go away, he says. People in northern Kentucky don't like the idea of putting tolls on the bridge.

I'll admit I don't know enough about Cincinnati traffic to have an opinion. But I would have some questions if I lived in that area or traveled through it frequently:

How much would the tolls be? Would traffic go around the tolled bridge and use others? What would that do to congestion on those bridges? And how could people be sure the tolls would go away? Once construction is paid for, would the tolls be kept on the bridge and be used to pay for its maintenance?

West Virginia has a turnpike that was built years ago. Its tolls pay for its maintenance and upkeep, and because of that the Turnpike is not eligible for certain funding sources that pay for maintenance and repair of other high-volume roads in the state. Putting tolls on a bridge is a complicated question that requires a lot of thought before any answers are given.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Work coming

So I went through about 500 pictures that I took today, and I picked out 37 that need to go up on the blog. I'll take my time editing and posting them, so check back every day or two to see if I'm on track or if I'm distracted.


Lock work

Thanks to Chuck Minsker at the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He says he was talking with some folks yesterday, and they asked if he knew of any media folks who would want to be at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam today to see one of the lock gates lifted out of the river for repairs. Chuck said he know just the guy.

Here are a couple of photos I got today.

There will be more later as I download and process the 300 or so shots I took.

If you want read more, check out my story here.