THE LOOP — Every single time a barge sinks in the Chicago River — which has happened twice this year, enough to inspire a parody Twitter account — you can’t help but wonder how they’ll yank it from the muddy bottom.
Well, a sunken barge is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get, Pete Perich of Lindahl Marine Contractors said.
“You could just pump out the water and pump in air, and the thing will float. You could lift it with a crane and float it with bags of air underneath it,” Perich said. “It all depends on the integrity of the boat, the water depth. Sometimes you sink a good barge next to a sunken barge, then chain them together, pump them full of air and they float to the surface.”
The latest barge to visit the river bottom sank last month and required a pretty complicated extraction thanks to cracks in two bottom compartments that caused it to sink in the middle.
After the barge's load of clay was removed, a team of divers from Lindahl Marine — the same company that helped plug the hole in the Chicago River that caused the Great Loop Flood of 1992 — got creative.
“This one didn’t have a simple solution. We had to bring additional floats and put them in the center. Then, burn holes in the barge, span beams across where it was split in half and use cables to connect the barge to the beam,” Perich said.
Once that was done, the underwater diving crew pumped air into both the floats and working compartments in the sunken barge, which was connected to working barges, until it finally floated off the river bottom Friday.
However a sunken barge gets returned to the surface, it’s never an inexpensive problem to solve.
“The cost can range from $10,000 to several hundred thousand dollars,” said Perich, vice president of operations at Lindahl Marine. “This one was fairly difficult. It took a lot of time, and all the work was done by underwater divers.”
By Friday afternoon, the once-sunken barge was chained up and ready for a final trip down the river.
“Our work is done. Now they use tugboats and float it to a dry dock,” Perich said. “Sometimes they’ll just fix it with a patch, but this one will probably get scrapped because it’s so screwed up.”
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