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Towboat nudges runaway dock with 16 boats to riverbank after wild 5-mile ride

ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- A covered dock containing 16 boats moored in slips broke free of its moorings in St. Albans early Thursday and drifted 5 miles down a rain-swollen Kanawha River before a towboat nudged it to safety along the riverbank in Putnam County.

No major damage was visible to the dock or the boats, at least one of which was 37 feet in length.

The dock, owned by Lou Wendell Marine, had recently been moved from its previous location under the Nitro-St. Albans Bridge, to a nearby site outside the span's demolition safety zone. Water levels in the Kanawha on Thursday were high, but not exceedingly so, according to Lou Wendell.

"I don't know what happened," said Wendell. "I got a call early this morning that it had happened, but that's about all I can tell you."

"Miraculously, the currents allowed the dock to pass underneath the Nitro-St. Albans Bridge and the interstate highway bridge without apparently contacting the bridge piers," said Bill Barr, vice president for safety and compliance for AmherstMadison, formerly Madison Coal & Supply Co.

The AmherstMadison towboat Shirley was working as a harbor boat at the John Amos power plant on Thursday. When alerted that the runaway dock was approaching them, Shirley's crew, led by Capt. Jerrick Marker, headed upstream and encountered the dock a short distance downstream of the Interstate 64 Bridge, according to Barr.

AmherstMadison personnel working at the company's Teays facility on the Kanawha near the I-64 crossing told Barr that the dock appeared to have been lined up to collide with a bridge pier, but the current swept it away in time to avoid impact.

"That put it on a collision course with our dock, but again the current sent it out," Barr said.

The Shirley appeared on the scene a few minutes later, approached the dock, and began nudging it toward the left descending bank of the Kanawha, a short distance upstream from the John Amos plant.

"Since the dock wasn't rigid, the Shirley couldn't get underneath it and power it to shore," Barr said. "Jerrick Marker had to very gently and gradually nudge it to the bank where his crew was able to secure it to the shore."

One boat owner estimated that the value of the 16 boats berthed in the dock exceeded $2 million.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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