Two construction barges employed at a $216-million project to replace the 2.7-mile-long Herbert C. Bonner Bridge over Oregon Inlet, on the North Carolina Outer Banks, came adrift in Pamlico Sound during the passage of Hurricane Matthew and beached themselves about 30 miles to the south near the village of Avon on Hatteras Island.
The project to replace the 52-year-old bridge was awarded to PCL Civil Constructors and HDR Engineering in 2011, but construction start was delayed until March 8, 2016, by lawsuits involving long-term environmental issues in federally protected areas of Hatteras Island.
On October 4, as the hurricane was approaching the U.S., PCL Civil Constructors told ENR that it had began securing construction equipment at the site in preparation for the storm, “including relocating PCL’s entire marine fleet working on the job to pre-designated ‘safe-harbor locations,’” according to PCL Area Manager Jim Schneiderman.
“We expect the project site to be fully secured and evacuated by the close of business on Thursday [Oct. 13] so that our employees have adequate time to take care of their families in preparation for the storm,” said Schneiderman.
“We are working very closely with NCDOT, and will have staff on call at all times before, during and after the storm to react to any emergencies that may arise,” Schneiderman added.
On the following Monday, after the storm's passage, Schneiderman said the construction team was able to safely access the project for the first time that morning to assess the site conditions, but he also confirmed that the first of two barges that washed ashore near Avon “is from the Bonner Bridge site. We are currently working on a recovery plan to return the barge to the project site,” he said.
The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the first of the two 140-ft-long barges discovered had grounded in front of a row of cottages on the west side of the island and contains approximately 300 gallons of diesel fuel and 100 gallons of hydraulic oil. Local authorities evacuated people from homes in the vicinity of the barge at about 2:15 p.m. on Oct. 9. No injuries were reported.
The Coast Guard said personnel from PCL determined on Sunday that a second 140-foot barge of the project fleet also was missing. An aircraft crew with Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 10 conducted overflight patrols and located the second barge at about 11 a.m. Monday, grounded approximately 7 miles south of the first barge.
The Coast Guard said the second barge contains approximately 200 gallons of diesel fuel and 300 gallons of hydraulic oil. There have been no reports of pollution from either barge.
“We will continue to monitor the grounded barges as the responsible party plans salvage efforts,” said Capt. Patricia Hill, commander of Coast Guard Sector North Carolina in Wilmington, N.C.. “We will ensure the responsible party conducts a timely and safe salvage in order to mitigate the potential threats to the environmentally sensitive Pamlico Sound,” Hill said.