Thursday, May 29, 2014

Camera-free reflections

Sometimes you’ve got to put the camera down.

This morning I was in beautiful downtown Huntington on a personal matter. As usual, I went down to the riverfront park to look for boats, and I saw one of the big new AEP boats heading my way. So, I went up on the 6th Street bridge to wait for it. I did not have my camera with me, so I enjoyed watching and listening to the boat as it passed under me. For the first time, I really felt and smelled the diesel exhaust as it hit my face, and I paid attention to how the water acted as the boat and its fifteen barges pushed their way through.

I stared at the wheel wash for a few seconds and noticed how drops of water rose and fell in the air. Watching their motion, I recalled one of the few physics equations that is stuck in my memory. It’s the speed of falling bodies: V = 16t2. Now don’t ask me to expound on wave action and flow mechanics. I dropped my physics studies before I spent a lot of time on those.

The sky was cloudy, so there was not a lot of glare to mess up exposures or wash out colors or hide details in shadows -- if I had had my camera.

As the boat passed under me, I saw that it was the Mountain State. As it had approacheded my position, I noticed the winch or whatever the thing is called that lowers the motorboat was active. After the Mountain State passed under me, it slowed and I thought, crew change. Then I noticed a white van at the Harris Riverfront Park boat ramp. So I came down off the bridge and drove to the ramp. I got there as two guys were getting their things out of the motorboat and two guys were getting in. The Mountain State was fairly close to shore. It might have made a decent photo, but background wasn’t as good as it would have been at Ashland, Ky., so no harm there. Plus I have lots of photos of the Mountain State -- interior and exterior -- already, so again, no harm.

But as the boat pulled away, I thought of events of the past few days and what it means for the Mountain State and its sister boats in the AEP fleet. For one, AEP CEO Nick Akins told Bloomberg News the company is thinking about selling its power plants in Ohio. Ohio is a deregulated state as far as electricity is concerned, and AEP prefers to operate power plants in regulated states, where it can expect a more certain rate of return. Then there are the new proposed EPA rules on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The EPA will announce those on Monday, and if the rules go through, power plants will burn less coal, and coal is mostly what the Mountain State pushes. That and limestone to feed the scrubbers. An AEP p.r. person told me a couple of years ago that a power plant is more likely to be shut down temporarily because of a lack of limestone than a lack of coal.

So, three to five years from now, will we see as many AEP boats on the Ohio River pushing coal as we do now? What about Crounse, Ingram, Campbell, Amherst Madison and others? What about the coal trains? CSX moves coal on the old B&O line along the river in West Virginia, and Norfolk Southern moves a lot on its tracks on the 45 miles or so between Kenova, W.Va., and Portsmouth, Ohio.

What are the ripple effects through the rest of the economy and the environment?

See? That’s what goes through my head when I leave the camera at home.

P.S. An old photo of the Mountain State in black and white.


American Electric Power in the news

First, this item from Forbes saying AEP, one of the largest movers of coal on the Ohio River, also was the largest producer of carbon dioxide from power plants in the United States in 2012.

Then this one from Bloomberg saying AEP may do what Duke Energy is doing and put its Ohio generating assets up for sale.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

EPA rules coming June 2

This coming Monday, June 2, the EPA is to announce its proposed rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.The proposed rule is expected to have the most impact on coal-burning plants, of course.

I will have more on this next week. For now, here is a long piece by Bloomberg looking at what might be coming. And here is one from the Wall Street Journal.

It will be interesting to get the reactions from various interests in the Ohio Valley.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Back in action

It's kind of hard to post stuff to a blog when your computer is in the shop, but I got it back tonight.

So while I catch up on a lot of stuff that piled up during a restful few days, here are a few pictures for your enjoyment.

First, the Roy E. Claverie, a boat that I don't think I had seen before. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I said this one had to have been built by Jeffboat.

Second, the William P. Morelli, a fine looking Dravo boat.

And here are some deckhands tightening the wires on the Morelli's tow as it left the Gallipolis locks during a double lockage.

More later, I hope.

Monday, May 19, 2014

M/V Steven M. Bryan and butadiene

We saw the Steven M. Bryan coming through our area yesterday so we figured we should get a couple of photos.

I took one photo that I did not prepare this blog, zoomed in and noticed it was carrying a substance called butadiene. According to wikipedia, butadiene is mainly used to produce synthetic rubber.

Most butadiene is polymerized to produce synthetic rubber. Acute exposure results in irritation of the mucous membranes, Higher levels can result in neurological effects such as blurred vision, fatigue, headache and vertigo. Exposure to the skin can lead to frostbite. (Source: Wikipedia)

Nasty but useful stuff, I guess.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Terrible thing in Cairo

I can't recall a bank robbery around here that ended in injury or death. A couple of retail store robberies, yes, but bank robbers in this area tend to get their money without any problem, or not get it.

That was not the case in Cairo last week, where two people at a branch bank were killed in a robbery that police say was committed by a man with a long history of violence.

If he is guilty, may he be locked away forever.

Vikings (updated with fourth picture)

In 1972, I rooted for the Minnesota Vikings, partly because of their cool helmets and partly because they played in that open-air stadium in December and January.

A few years later, I learned of the existence of the Viking line of Dravo-built towboats, and ever since I have rooted for Dravo Vikings.

Today I saw one come down the river past Huntington WV, so I got off a few shots.

I had one more photo to upload, but for some reason Blogger won't let me put any more pictures on here right now. If Blogger changes its mind, I'll be back.


Hah. I got the fourth picture up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

This and that, 5/17/2014

This looks like it would be interesting if I had a good dictionary and a couple of hours to figure out what was going on. Right now, I think I can understand just enough of this to get everything wrong:

Lateral hyporheic exchange throughout the Mississippi River network


Kind of far from the Ohio River -- it's on the New York State border in the northeastern part of the state -- but I figure we will see more power plants being built to take advantage of Marcellus and Utica shale gas as reliance on coal declines for various reasons.


ASYLUM TOWNSHIP — A construction site in Bradford County is the future home of the Panda Liberty Generating Station. It will be the first new power plant in Pennsylvania to convert natural gas from Marcellus Shale drilling into electricity.


And here's one person's account of the water walk being done by members of the Ojibwe Nation along the Ohio River.

The Ohio River has been tough for me to ignore. I often wince involuntarily when I pass its befouled water and look away with a pang of guilt. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A couple of things

Sorry for no postings lately, I've been trying to earn some money. You know how that goes.


The W.P. Snyder Jr. will have to wait a while longer to get to its new home in Marietta.

Here is one paragraph of a news story about it. I don't plan to pay for access, so this is all I have right now.

Except that Neale Marine Transportation & Fleeting has the story on what's happening, too:

With the water level predicted to rise above 30 feet on the Marietta gage over the weekend, the W.P. Snyder Jr. was moved to our fleet this afternoon to ride out the rise. She and Amherst Madison's Lady Lois are now in their new temporary home in our fleet and will be here until river levels drop and conditions stabilize enough to attempt to return the W.P. Snyder Jr. to her permanent home at the Ohio River Museum on the Muskingum River.

If you wan to see the picture, go to Neale's Facebook page.


Don't do this.

Accused Drunk Driver Survives River Swim

Around here, people have drowned trying to avoid police by jumping into the river.

Don't be this stupid. Please.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Muscovy duck?

I saw three of these birds on the Ohio River bank at Huntington WV a couple of week ago. From their behavior, I'm guessing there were two males and one female.

I'm no bird expert, but these look like Muscovy ducks to me. If I'm wrong, please fill me in.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

W.P. Snyder Jr. is almost home

The sternwheeler W.P. Snyder Jr. got back to Marietta today, but the Muskingum River was running too high for it to get under a bridge, so it's sitting on the city's riverfront until Monday.

Here's a TV news story with more information.

This should be fun

First, I see the main lock at Robert C. Byrd will be closed for repairs from now through Aug. 29. That should help us towboat photographers find some boats sitting still and posing for pictures.

But the real fun should come up near Pittsburgh between now and June 6 when the main lock at Dashields is closed for repairs. That means traffic will have to use the small lock, which is 56 feet wide and 360 feet long. That's enough for one barge and a boat, but not enough for two barges. Deckhands will be busy taking tows apart one barge at a time and locking them through one by one.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Stanford U exiting coal investments

Stanford University has decided to purge its $18 billion endowment of stocks in coal companies, following pressures from students opposed to the use of fossil fuels.

From the article:

Stanford’s associate vice president for communications, Lisa Lapin, said the decision covers about 100 companies worldwide that derive the majority of their revenue from coal extraction. Not all of those companies are in the university’s investment portfolio, whose structure is private, she said. Over all, the university’s coal holdings are a small fraction of its endowment.

“But a small percentage is still a substantial amount of money,” she added. 

The trustees’ decision carries more symbolic than financial weight, but it is a major victory for a rapidly growing student-led divestment movement that is now active at roughly 300 universities. 

There may be more than a moral or ethical aspect to this. My former coworker and pretty good reporter Taylor Kuykendall at SNL Financial has tweeted lately that the market capitalization (total value of all stock in a company; share price times number of shares) of major coal companies has dropped drastically in the past few years.

It's easy to stand with God when Mammon approves.

W.P. Snyder Jr. heading home

I've been told via a network of people on Facebook that the old steamboat W.P. Snyder Jr. left the Amherst repair yard at Point Pleasant, W.Va., around 10 o'clock last night for its trip home to Marietta, Ohio.

According to this story from WTAP-TV, the old boat should arrive in Marietta around 10 a.m. Thursday.

The Snyder is being pushed upriver by another old classic, the J.S. Lewis.

I don't know how fast the Lewis is traveling, but as of 6 a.m. it had not shown up on the lock report for the Racine Locks and Dam

Monday, May 5, 2014

Natural gas liquids

Coal is a big deal on the Ohio River. It's possible that in a few years natural gas liquids will be, too, if crackers and other plants are built to take advantage of processing them rather than shipping them by pipeline to the Gulf Coast, where a lot of such infrastructure is already in place.

Shell is talking about building an ethane cracker in Beaver County, Pa., and Oderbrecht is looking at a site downriver from Parkersburg, W.Va., near the new Blennerhassett Bridge as a site for a cracker.

If you want to read more about what all that could, I suggest this article from Crain's Cleveland Business.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Off topic: Rail car safety

Last week, several cars of a CSX train hauling crude oil from North Dakota to Virginia derailed in Lynchburg, Va., causing a fire and spilling an undetermined amount of oil into the James River. It was one of several such incidents in the past year, and it underscores how things can go wrong all at once.

This article talks in detail about what we know about the derailment and what we don't know. About twenty years ago, I was one of several people on Ashland Oil corporate jet as that company flew Huntington-area reporters to Jeffersonville, Ind., to announce Ashland was buying several double-hull petroleum barges from Jeffboat and phasing out its single-hull barges.

I thought of that as I pondered the content of this story, which mentions how Canada is requiring railroads and their customers to phase out their older tank cars and replace them with newer, safer ones within three years. Because a lot of rail traffic crosses the border, we'll be seeing those new cars here, too, even if the U.S. government does not require them.

Given that a lot of cars used in trains are owned by customers and not by the railroads themselves, I would assume the railroads and insurance companies are pushing for better tank cars, too. Until we improve the nation's pipeline system, this is one of several steps that will be taken to make rail transport of crude, especially crude from North Dakota, safer.

Off topic: Cincinnati's airport and lost jobs

We're going off topic a bit, but only slightly. The Ohio River is built for transportation, and here are a couple of non-river stories from the news that fit in with the idea of transportation.

First, when I worked for the paper in Huntington, W.Va., I did a lot of stories about Toyota and its engine and transmission factory just outside the town of Buffalo, W.Va. I even tracked down the car with the first West Virginia-made engine, and learned that it was sold to a woman in suburban Dallas. As part of that, I made a lot of calls to what was then the Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America headquarters in Erlanger, Ky., across the Ohio River and a bit south of Cincinnati.

Here is an article explaining why Toyota is moving a lot of corporate folks out of Erlanger and moving them to Texas -- near the place where the woman bought that first Corolla with a West Virginia-made engine. Delta has cut back the number of flights it offers out of the Cincinnati airport, making it harder for Toyota executives to get to their operations in several states, most of which are east of the Mississippi River.

Back in the 1990s, people in my area used to joke about using Delta's hub at Cincinnati for their connecting flights. Because we used a regional carrier operated by Delta, we called the Cincinnati airport "Comair hell." This article says the Cincinnati airport is a shell of what it once was compared to a few years ago, before Delta merged with Northwest.

Transportation may not be the most glamorous topic for news types to cover, but this one and others show what happens when you lose access to it.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Three photos from the river today

Yes, the river is up.

The Tennessee passes Kenova WV.

And I get my first picture of the Marathon boat Galveston Bay.

No. 5, coming up

I just realized today that the 28th of this month will mark the five-year anniversary of the Ohio River Blog.

Is it time for a new look? Nah.

More later, maybe.

Brad Paisley and the Ohio River

I'm not a big country music fan anymore. It was all around me when I was growing up, but when it transitioned from Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed and guys like that to Garth Brooks and guys in cowboy hats, I made the move to baroque and classical. Some modern bluegrass on acoustic instruments is okay, but a lot of that, too, is repetitive and really not interesting.

If you are familiar with Brad Paisley, he grew up in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, and that may have had something do with his song "River Bank." It seems like the guy spent a lot of time on the Ohio when he was growing up. So he's not all bad, I guess.

Here's one link to his song, if you're interested.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meanwhile, on the upper river ...

The Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released its draft feasiblity report and integrated environmental impact statement on a study of how to solve problems with inadequate locks and rapidly deteriorating concrete and equipment at the Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams, all in the first 32 miles of the Ohio River below Pittsburgh.

The full report can be found here by clicking on the link. You get a 378-page PDF. I don't have time to read the whole thing this afternoon, so I'll copy and past this part from PDF Page 23 (report page 19): 

This analysis has determined that Plan LMA 7 delivers the largest positive average annual system net benefits (i.e. the NED Plan), is the preferred plan accounting for Corps evaluation criteria and is environmentally acceptable.Therefore Plan LMA 7 is recommended for implementation. This plan involves the construction of a new 110’ x 600’ river lock as soon as possible to replace the small auxiliary river lock at each site and retention of the existing land chambers with Reactive Maintenance. 

The Project Cost, prepared at a greater level of detail than the screening level costs presented earlier, through the use of the Corps Microcomputer Aided Cost Estimation System (MII) and contingencies that incorporate risk factors is $2,143,687,000.

 Construction would begin in fiscal year 2019.

As noted above, I haven't read the whole report, and I have to get back to a freelance assignment after eating lunch. It will be interesting to see how this plays given the money pit that is Olmstead and how Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appears to be protecting Olmstead.

Two from the lower Ohio

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending more than $12 million to rehabilitate 12-year-old locks that have never been put into service. And it could be a decade before they are.


That's what happens when a project drags on the way the Olmstead Locks and Dam has. Someday Olmstead will replace locks and dams 53 and 52. Dam 52 is at Paducah. Dam 53 is farther downstream and is the last one before the mouth of the Ohio (as geographers call it).

This article reports on two contracts the Corps has awarded to rehabilitate the locks.


The city of Cairo, Ill., has had troubles for nearly a half century. Adam and I were down there last May, and the city looks like many smaller towns along the river and away from it. The downtown is a shell of what it once was, and there apparently is little incentive to invest there other than to consolidate businesses such as branch banks and grocery stores.

I'm not going to badmouth Cairo here. As my wife says, you don't go into someone's house and criticize it. Even if I wanted to find fault, I don't know enough about the city to pass any sort of judgment on it, and right not it's not my job to do that anyway.

This week came reports that Cairo wants guidance in rebuilding its economy.

From the AP:

The 2,800-resident city announced Monday it is teaming with New Orleans-based planning and economic development firm GCR Inc. to create a comprehensive development plan.

Will it work? Beats me. For nearly 40 years, I've seen small towns struggle. I've seen dozens of plans for removing blight, for streetscapes, for arts corridors, for brownfield redevelopment ... you name it. I've seen strip plazas and malls built in town to compete with those out of town. Some have come to pass. Some haven't. Some shopping centers work. Some don't.

The one thing a city needs to attract investment is a reason for money to be there. As some folks would say, investors need to think they can make more money by putting a business in Cairo than they can somewhere else.

Doing these development studies at least brings the city's needs to the public's attention. Perhaps that will open some wallets. But you never know. I do know that Adam and I want to get back down that way this year if we can. I'll do a Kickstarter campaign if I have to, as having lost a regular job for the second time in five years really puts a hurting on a bank account, but we do want to spend a day or two or three down around Paducah and Cairo. You guys can have Myrtle Beach or a ski resort. Give us the beauty of the lower Ohio for a working vacation.