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Coast Guard Investigating Runaway Barges

January 3, 1990

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Coast Guard today said it is investigating whether dozens of barges torn from their moorings by rushing chunks of ice in the rain- and snow- swollen Monongahela River had been secured properly.

The operators of the mooring areas in the 58-mile stretch of river where at least 55 barges broke away New Year’s Day could be fined up to $1,000 per vessel, Cmdr. Tony Regalbuto said. The Coast Guard on Dec. 26 had warned operators a thaw was expected by the weekend, Regalbuto said.

″They knew this was coming,″ said Paul Behers, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources.

″They are presumed negligent because you don’t expect a barge that’s fixed to the shore to break away on its own,″ Regalbuto said.

In crashing downstream, one of the barges spilled 10,000 gallons of gasoline, although state officials said environmental damage was slight. Another barge holding 420,000 gallons of fuel was pried from a dam Tuesday, its cargo intact.

Thirty of the barges sank, prompting the Coast Guard to halt river traffic along a 20-mile stretch south of Pittsburgh. Some of the submerged vessels were empty; others carried coal. The river will reopen as soon as all the sunken barges are located, possibly by Thursday, said Coast Guard Lt. Rhae Giacoma.

The Coast Guard planned to scan the closed portion of the river this evening after receiving sonar equipment from the Army Corps of Engineers.

In New Jersey, about 5,000 gallons of heating oil spilled from a pipe linking an Exxon Corp. plant in Linden with its refinery in Bayonne.

The break Tuesday caused an 11-mile slick that tainted six miles of shoreline on New York’s Staten Island, officials said.

John Hagerty, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said no environmentally sensitive areas were threatened by the spill, which occurred in an area ringed with industrial plants and oil terminals.

The gasoline that spilled in Pennsylvania was on a barge that drifted from Mon River Towing Inc.’s dock at Speers, 44 miles upstream from Pittsburgh, over the locks and dam at Charleroi, 28 miles south of Pittsburgh. It hit the Monongahela Bridge before coming to rest at New Eagle, 14 miles farther downstream.

Two other barges broke loose from Mon River Towing, 15 from an LTV Steel Co. facility three miles upstream from Pittsburgh and 37 from LaBelle Processing Co.

The spilled gasoline drifted down the Ohio River to Ohio and West Virginia today, becoming more diluted with every mile.

″The farther it goes, the less pronounced it would be,″ Behers said.

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