Barge At Dam 4 Lost Its Load

Officials fear it could break free.

Harpers Ferry, WV. (NS) – UPDATE: The smaller barge at Dam 4 lost its load overnight.

It was holding a mini-excavator, sand sacks, a cement and a lime pallet, a 20-foot gangway, a mortar mixer, and a variety of hand tools.

C&O Canal spokesperson Christiana Hanson said those items will be part of the future recovery effort and none of them pose a large environmental threat.

Officials expect the smaller barge to break loose and float again when the water levels recede, and recovery teams are working to stop the barge with ropes when it is able to move again.

The barges that were being used to rehabilitate the retaining wall and stabilize the towpath on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in McMahon’s Mill broke loose during heavy rain this weekend and floated downstream towards Harpers Ferry.

Christiana Hanson, Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Volunteers with the C&O Canal National Historical Park, said the two vessels stopped floating down the river after getting snagged on underwater debris.

“The smaller of the two, went to Dam 4 and it’s caught on the hydraulic rollers just below Dam 4. The larger one is currently held in place by the remnants of Dam 3,” said Hanson.

Dam 3 is north of Harpers Ferry, and Dam 4 is in the Sharpsburg area.

Hanson added that it could be awhile until we know the extent of any damage caused by the runaway barges.

“We haven’t assessed any damage yet, but that is one thing that is coming in the future. The river water levels are still too elevated for us to do a good assessment of any potential damage,” she said.

The large barge, which is at Dam 3, broke loose on Saturday above Shephardstown, and is carrying construction equipment including an excavator.

The smaller vessel also broke loose on Sunday.

Hanson said the recent heavy rain could have been a factor in the barges getting loose.

“We are, in fact, going to be investigating that to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future. Right now, it’s one of those unexpected, unfortunate side effects of wild weather and really crazy waters,” she added.

She said the investigation may also show if someone should be held responsible.

Crews are working to develop a plan on how to remove the vessels and equipment from the river.