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Dredge Spill Threatens Marshes, Closes Sub Channel

June 6, 1988

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The St. Marys River channel on the Florida-Georgia border was blocked and closed to shipping today after a dredging boat sank, leaking diesel fuel that endangered nearby tidal marshes.

The closed channel blocked both commercial traffic from the Port of Fernandina and military traffic from Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Coast Guard Cmdr. Henry Rohrs said in Jacksonville Sunday.

The 168-foot Crest, which had been working to deepen the channel to accommodate the Navy’s nuclear Trident subs, foundered and sank in high winds and heavy seas Saturday morning.

Most of the leaking diesel oil floated into the Atlantic Ocean, but some drifted inside the channel, where containment booms were erected to protect up-river creeks.

Officials hoped the containment booms would keep the tidal marshes of Cumberland Island, part of the federal park system, from being polluted.

No oil had hit the marshes, Rohrs said.

Seven crew members from the Great Lakes Dredging and Dock Co. dredging boat were plucked from the water as it sank in the 50-foot deep channel. A barge alongside broke away and drifted several miles south along Fernandina Beach before it was secured.

Coast Guard Capt. Robert O’Pezio, on-scene coordinator, said the sunken dredge contained 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel - or enough to leak for three days at a rate of 500 gallons an hour.

The dredging company, he said, will have to pay for cleaning up the spill. Bill Moore, the company’s project superintendent, said he did not know what it would cost.

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