GREENPOINT — A sunken construction barge was recovered on Saturday from atop some of the city’s largest fuel pipelines without causing any leakage, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The 260-foot Allocco Recycling vessel was carrying construction stone and tied to a Greenpoint, Brooklyn bulkhead when it sank on Jan. 31.
The six pipelines crossing under the Newtown Creek are part of the 6,200-mile system operated by Houston, TX-based Buckeye Partners, a petroleum product distribution company.
The lines serve Arc Terminals, British Petroleum, and United Metro Energy Corp. fuel terminals in Greenpoint and carry gasoline and jet fuel for the city’s airports, NYPD helicopter fleet and area gas stations.
“This is the first time I can remember a barge sinking in the immediate vicinity of a pipeline,” said Charles Rowe, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard’s New York sector.
Despite the risk posed by the barge settling on the critical fuel line, Rowe said that there will be no changes in protocol due to the accident.
“There will be no changes in Coast Guard policy. There’s inherent risk in anything you put in the water at any time. There are pipelines and cables all over the harbor. This no more or less dangerous than anything else,” he said.
"I don't want to say this kind of thing is common but maybe once a year one of these stone [bearing] barges sinks or overturns, so everyone's pretty well versed in it,” said Glenn Goodwin, Coast Guard vessel traffic controller for New York Harbor.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's chief of spill prevention programs, Randy Austin, questioned that thinking.
“It’s not a question of how often it happens. It’s whether or not it should be prohibited from happening in the first place,” Austin said. “The Department shares concerns about pipelines and the vessels that park above them. Is it an appropriate place to moor a barge?”
The US Environmental Protection Agency has included the Newtown Creek in its Superfund cleanup program for exceptionally polluted sites. A different section of Buckeye pipeline was targeted by terrorists in a 2007 plot against John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Austin confirmed that divers dispatched by Buckeye Partners found no leaks, but said that pipeline pressure tests are ongoing.
He said that two factors that helped prevent any ruptures were that the barge “lay gently” on the bottom after sinking slowly, and that the pipelines were protected by a 15- to 20-foot-thick sediment of pollution.
“That’s probably the first time in the history of the Newtown Creek when that sludge bank served as an environmental benefit,” he said. His department has no authority over where barges can moor, which is Coast Guard jurisdiction, Austin said.
As is routine with all maritime accidents, the Coast Guard will conduct an investigation, Rowe said, adding that the process could take days or months.
The barge has several holes in its hull, according to Austin, and is kept afloat by pumps until Allocco Recycling decides upon a repair strategy. Buckeye Partners and Allocco Recycling didn’t respond to requests for comment.