BARGES ON THE LOOSE

Runaway barges to cost TZ contractor $1 million per month until problem is fixed

BY JANIE ROSMAN

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Less than one week after Westchester and Rockland residents learned GPS tracking will be affixed to Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC)’s equipment, another barge broke loose from the work site. This is neither the first time a barge or barges have floated away from their mooring nor that the contractor was admonished about safety.

The Thruway Authority responded to this third strike out with strong retaliatory action the next day.

“Until TZC delivers a contractually required corrective action plan that can be reviewed and approved by our project team, we are going to withhold up to $1 million per month in project progress payments, as allowed under the contract,” project director Peter Sanderson said.

Special project advisor Brian Conybeare called the barge incident “unacceptable” and said officials are reviewing TZC’s safety protocols and barge mooring methods. Long-overdue GPS tracking devices now being installed and tested on all TZC barges, crew boats and other vessels are expected to be functional by the end of the month.

“Tappan Zee Constructors, LLC (TZC) places safety as our top priority, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that our work site is safe for workers, boaters and the surrounding public,” TZC spokesperson Carla Julian said in a statement Tuesday night.

Following a full investigation of the barge separation Sunday, March 30, at approximately 3:45 p.m., Julian said, “TZC determined that high winds and rough seas caused two, three-inch lines from the mooring buoy to the barge to fail from severe abrasion and high heat created from friction.”

When Piermont resident Dean Taucher’s call came in at 4 p.m. Sunday, Police Chief Michael O’Shea said, “The desk notified Rockland County Radio, which notified the Rockland County Sheriff’s Marine Unit, Westchester County Police Marine Unit, and the Piermont Fire Department.”

First Assistant Fire Chief Dan Goswick said his department coordinated with others during the 75-minute incident.

O’Shea was grateful for Taucher’s quick thinking that day and on September 22, the first time a TZC barge broke from its mooring and traveled approximately one mile before being secured. He commended the New NY Bridge team for its immediate response, and said the public’s help is always appreciated.

“If you see something, say something,” O’Shea said. As the season approaches, he’s concerned about the safety of recreational boaters.

In a statement Sunday, Julian confirmed a barge broke loose 45 minutes after its mooring tie-offs were checked. It traveled about two miles before being secured off the Dobbs Ferry shoreline with no reported injuries or property damages. Moorings are checked four times per shift, and “a full investigation is underway,” she said.

GPS tracking was discussed after a January 3 snowstorm caused two subcontractor barges to break loose. One floated several miles before being secured, and the other was recovered near Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx.

The Coast Guard expects the expanded Regulated Navigation Area (RNA) of 500-yard area north and south of the bridge will be approved, Charles Rowe, Sector New York Public Affairs Office, said. Currently, the no-wake (5-knot maximum speed) channel, marked by temporary navigational lights, is 300 yards north and 200 yards south of the span.

Project officials requested a safety zone around the 16 construction barge mooring locations to prohibit vessel traffic. The nearly 50 crew and tug boats, barge-mounted cranes, barges, and temporary fixed platforms will top 100 by summer, and it’s unclear how a safety zone will protect boaters if another barge breaks loose.

Dozens of extra LED solar/battery-powered lights were added to all TZC equipment in the river, above and beyond Coast Guard requirements, after a July 26 boating accident that caused two deaths and injured four others.

Yet no matter what measures are taken — GPS monitoring, improvements in mooring tackle, or other safety enhancements — “the Hudson River Boat and Yacht Club Association sincerely hopes the issue of loose barges gets resolved,” president Scott Croft commented. “The river will soon be filled with recreational boats, and we know that boats and construction barges don’t mix.”

In addition to the ongoing inspection of the barge lines, TZC spokesperson Julian said, “TZC has developed a plan to prevent this from occurring in the future. New mooring lines are being installed that are more resistant to abrasion and friction during severe weather, high winds and rough seas. Additionally, anti-chafing sleeves will be installed to further protect the mooring lines from abrasion where appropriate.”

The previous barge separations (September 22, 2013, and January 3, 2014), Julian said, “were from a different cause. Previously, the lines failed from barges that were tied to other barges, not directly to a mooring line. TZC put new protocols in place at that time and they have worked as that type of separation has not occurred since.”

Protocols include:

– Repositioning of barge orientation to cause less stress on lines from the movement of the full barge grouping

– Implementation of a new TZC adverse weather safety checklist

– Increased TZC marine security patrols to 24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week

– Enhanced training for TZC rigging crews

– GPS tracking for TZC vessels and barges (currently being tested)=

“TZC continues to work in partnership with the New York State Thruway Authority and the U.S. Coast Guard with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard Regulated Navigation Area,” she said, “and will continue to refine our processes in order to ensure the highest level of safety on the project.”