ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – News4Jax learned Wednesday morning that the Bridgeport barge, which became stuck off the coast of Atlantic Beach in March after hitting the jetties, was being moved in what the salvage team described as a “test tow.”
Sky 4 aerials showed at least three tug boast moving the barge south toward the Jacksonville Beach pier, then turning it around and heading back north.
The barge has been stranded off Atlantic Beach for months after a tugboat that was pushing the 418-foot vessel lost control in rough weather, crashing into the jetties.
The I-TEAM recently learned more than 9,000 tons of coal ash spilled from the barge into the ocean. According to marine science experts, the ash contains toxic materials like lead and mercury.
The unified response team said it has been working to satisfy the Coast Guard that the barge can be moved into a safe berth without affecting the health and safety of the community, responders or the environment.
The Coast Guard approved a plan to perform the 5-hour test tow at 5 knots, which will be conducted south of the St. Johns River.
“The salvage crew will remain on board the barge and communicate conditions to the naval architect, who will compile the data into a stability analysis,” according to a report on the unified response team’s update page.
The team said water was removed from the cargo hopper Monday and about 4,000 tons of cargo remain on board the barge, which is stable and securely afloat, for now.
Several environmental groups tell News4Jax they are concerned about the impact the 9,000 tons of spilled coal ash will have on the environment and sea life.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also released the sampling and assessment results that were taken in the waters near where the barge was stranded.
The DEP took samples from 44 points on the sea floor near the Bridgeport and 17 pits along the shoreline. The 17 shoreline pits were all clear.
Four samples showed trace amounts of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, nickel and copper, near the barge, but nothing that exceeds their standards.
If Wednesday’s test tow goes well, the teams could get the go-ahead to bring the ship into the port, ultimately to the North Florida Shipyards near TIAA Bank Field.