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OHIO RIVER Barge accident prompts lawsuit



Published: Tue, February 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The accident occurred when three barges crashed into a dam.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) -- Residents living along a 42-mile stretch of the Ohio River are suing a towboat company and a Columbus, Ohio-based utility, saying a Jan. 6 barge accident that knocked out water-control gates at a lock and dam has damaged their property.

Three loaded coal barges slammed into Belleville Lock and Dam after breaking loose from a 12-barge tow that had passed through the lock. A fourth barge sank before the dam.

Salvage crews resumed work Monday to remove the wreckage from the gates.

Falling water levels forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt river traffic between Belleville and the Willow Island Lock and Dam, about 21 miles above Parkersburg. The closure has stranded more than 290 barges above and below the pool and is costing an estimated $4.5 million a day in economic damages.

As water levels fell in the Ohio and its tributaries, riverbanks already battered by earlier flooding began eroding and slipping into the waterways, creating a nuisance for property owners, alleges the lawsuit, filed Friday in Wood County Circuit Court.

More damage expected

"As the river levels continue to drop, the damage will increase," the lawsuit said. Additional damage is expected as cracks in the banks are exposed to the river's natural flow.

Because the damage involves both sides of the Ohio River and its tributaries, the Charleston lawyers pressing the case are seeking class-action status.

The lawsuit seeks damages against B & amp; H Towing of Paducah, Ky., American Electric Power Corp. and AEP Memco L.L.C.

The towboat is owned by Memco and leased to B & amp; H Towing, the lawsuit said.

AEP spokesman Pat Hemlepp said on Monday that the utility and Memco had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. B & amp; H Towing General Manager Keith Lay was not immediately available for comment Monday.

At the time of the accident, the Ohio River was in flood stage. The lawsuit alleges that the towboat, Jon J. Strong, "did not have sufficient power to safely control the heavy load it was pushing ..." given the conditions.

The lawsuit also alleges that the cables and straps holding the barges to the Strong "were insufficient for the load and conditions." Nine of the 12 barges broke loose and five were recovered.




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