Ice challenges Ohio River traffic

NEW MATAMORAS-Temperatures well below freezing are playing havoc with barge traffic plowing through the ice-covered Ohio River. One towboat pushing 15 loads of coal was stranded for several hours in river ice at New Matamoras Tuesday.

It was the second time that day the Winnie C towboat, owned by Campbell Transportation Co. Inc. in Charleroi, Pa., had become stuck in Ohio’s frozen waters, according to Harvey Hall of New Matamoras.

“I’ve been working with a contractor at the Mitchell power plant (on the river near Moundsville, W.Va.), and the same boat was stuck in ice about eight miles south of Moundsville around 6 a.m. today,” he said Tuesday. “The pilot has been fighting the ice all day.”

One area resident said the Winnie C had been stranded for most of the day mid-river at New Matamoras.

Officials at the Willow Island Locks and Dam said the river ice was at least an inch thick at the dam Tuesday afternoon, and the ice was expected to grow even thicker today.

Petty Officer Cody Rechus with the U.S. Coast Guard in Huntington said another towboat and barge had been dispatched to help free the Winnie C from the ice. The rescue vessel arrived at New Matamoras around 5 p.m. and began breaking up the ice around the Winnie C’s coal-laden barges.

The Winnie C crew apparently remained on board during the ordeal.

Rechus said the boat would have had plenty of food and supplies stocked up for its trip downriver, so the crew was in no danger.

“But if they needed assistance we could get supplies to them,” he said.

Longtime New Matamoras resident Terry Newlen said he’s seen many barges stuck in river ice when winters were cold enough to freeze the Ohio.

“One time, around 2002, the ice was so thick they had to let a barge sit for a few days until the ice thawed out,” he said. “Usually they bring another barge to keep pushing the ice aside so the boat that’s stuck can continue down the river.”

The Coast Guard would not reveal the Winnie C’s destination nor the company for which it was towing coal.