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Oil-spill site reopened to boats

Safety zone established for 4 miles along Mississippi River by The Associated Press | September 6, 2015 at 4:09 a.m. | Updated September 6, 2015 at 4:09 a.m.

COLUMBUS, Ky. -- A 17-mile stretch of the Mississippi River in Kentucky reopened with restrictions after it was closed after a collision between two towboats that spilled more than 120,000 gallons of oil into the waterway, the U.S. Coast Guard said Saturday.

The Coast Guard had closed the Mississippi from mile markers 939 to 922 after Wednesday evening's collision near Columbus, Ky., damaged at least one barge carrying slurry oil. Officials said the cargo tank ruptured, causing tens of thousands of gallons of oil to spill into the river.

On Saturday morning, the Coast Guard said vessel traffic on the affected part of the river was open, with a safety zone in effect from mile marker 938 to 934. The Coast Guard said vessels travel in one direction per 12-hour period.

The closure caused a backup of tows and barges on the river. Twenty-seven vessels were waiting to move upriver and 10 were waiting to travel downriver early Saturday, the Coast Guard said.

No injuries were reported in the collision, and the cause was under investigation. The closure had stretched south to the city of Hickman.

The barge was carrying approximately 1 million gallons, but the breach was only in one area, affecting just one of its six tanks, Coast Guard Petty Officer Lora Ratliff said. That tank holds 250,000 gallons, and Coast Guard Lt. Takila Powell said a little more than 120,000 gallons spilled into the river.

Slurry oil is heavier than water, so it sinks below the surface, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said. Oil has not been seen on the riverbank, the Coast Guard said Saturday.

The Coast Guard used aerial observations to try to determine the location of the oil. Crews have begun warming the remaining oil on the barge to safely remove it. Sampling of water and sediment quality has been conducted, and results are pending, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard said it was working with the barge owner, Inland Marine Services, and an oil-spill-response organization. An Inland Marine Services spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

Both towboat operators had been interviewed by Coast Guard investigators and underwent drug and alcohol testing, but results weren't back yet, Powell said.

The Coast Guard determined that five barges were damaged in the collision, but nothing other than the oil leaked into the river, Powell said.

A July 2008 spill caused by a collision between a tugboat and a barge carrying oil on the Mississippi River in New Orleans sent 282,000 gallons into the water and caused the closure of the river.

A Section on 09/06/2015

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