THE LOOP — A small construction barge being used to build the Chicago Riverwalk sank Thursday in the Chicago River near LaSalle Street.
The barge began taking on water after 7 p.m. Wednesday. By 10:15 a.m. Thursday, a section of the barge could still be seen peeking above the surface of the water. But by 11 a.m., it was fully submerged in the 20-foot deep river.
Salvage divers were on the scene for part of the day Thursday.
The barge is near the south wall of the river and is not blocking river traffic, city officials said.
Since the barge doesn't have a motor, the incident shouldn't lead to pollution problems, said John Quail, the Director of Watershed Planning at nonprofit organization Friends of the Chicago River.
It's not clear why the barge sank. It is controlled by Walsh Construction, which is working on the riverwalk expansion, Chicago Dept. of Transportation spokesman Peter Scales said.
A construction worker at the site said the barge sank overnight sometime between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday morning. When he returned to work Thursday around 7 a.m. only a portion of the barge could be seen.
Around 11:15 a.m. Thursday, crews sent a diver into the water to determine the location of the barge. The diver found it and a plan is in motion to recover the barge. He would not elaborate on plans to recover the barge, but said it would likely begin Friday, the worker said.
Quail said a typical recovery might begin with divers strategically placing giant air bags in the river, which is about 20 feet deep, and inflating them. As the air bags inflate, the air takes up space where the water used to be. Once there is enough air to get the buoyancy back up, the barge should pop back up, he added.
But this incident was anything but typical.
"I've been with Friends [of the Chicago River] for 15 years, and this is the first time this has happened," Quail said.
The barge was not holding any hazardous materials but some expensive equipment on the barge was most likely lost, the worker said.
The barge recovery work can be seen on the city's webcam highlighting the riverwalk expansion.
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