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Jax Barge Recovery Focused On Refloating Barge, Not Removing Remaining Coal Ash

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Barge Bridgeport Response
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Marine salvage crews are continuing to work on a 400-foot-long cargo ship carrying coal ash that ran aground near Jacksonville in March. 

Crews have stopped trying to offload any of the ship’s cargo, and are focusing on refloating the barge instead. An additional tugboat has been rerouted from Charleston, N.C. to assist with towing the barge. 

“Any salvage operation puts safety first, so weather, safe utilization of salvage assets and work hour responsibilities must be respected,” said spokesman Jim Lawrence. 

The Bridgeport ran aground near Hanna Park, and it’s now been a month since a nor’easter tilted it to the left and spilled nearly 9,000 tons of potentially toxic coal ash. 

The ship was carrying Agremax, a waste product from a coal-fired power plant in Puerto Rico. The EPA does not regulate the material as a hazardous waste, but marine biologists and naval engineers still have concerns about the environmental impact of the spill. 

Preliminary reports from dive teams show “trace amounts” of a material that may be Agremax on the seafloor. When the nor’easter pummeled the ship and spilled some f its contents, the wind was blowing from the Northeast to the Southwest, meaning towards the shoreline of Atlantic Beach. But underwater conditions may have moved the material in any direction. 

The greatest environmental concern is for the shrimp, crabs and clams that live on the seafloor, but the area where the Bridgeport ran aground is a high-traffic area without a rich ecosystem. 

A full environmental report is expected in the next few days

Contact Sydney Boles at sboles@wjct.org, or on Twitter at @sydneyboles.

Sydney manages community engagement programs like WJCT News' Coronavirus Texting Service. Originally from the mountains of upstate New York, she relocated to Jacksonville from Kentucky, where she reported on Appalachia's coal industry.