Sunken Barge Irks Kuskokwim Residents
Residents of fish camps along ‘Steamboat Slough’ near Bethel are calling for an abandoned barge to be removed. The barge has been sitting half submerged in the middle of the slough for more than a year.
Barbara Anvil is furious the barge has been left in the slough, which serves as a highway for boats in summer and for snow machines and four wheelers in winter. She says the barge is right in the middle of that highway and it’s a safety hazard.
“This winter somebody got hurt with a four wheeler … In fact, my brother’s the one who came across his four wheeler over there by the barge. There was lots of blood and stuff around it,” said Anvil.
That blood was, then 28-year-old, Jason Fisher’s. He says he was driving his 4-wheeler around 10 o’clock on December 16th on his way home from Bethel to Kwethluk, when he hit the barge. He doesn’t remember much because the impact knocked him out. He had a head injury and was in the hospital for about a month. He had to have surgery to amputate nine and half of his fingers. Bethel Police and Search and Rescue officials confirm Fisher’s story.
The barge, named ‘Shanks Ark’, sunk in 2012 or 2013. Officials with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources say the barge is owned by Bethel-based Kuskokwim Lighterage and Trucking and was being leased and operated by Faulkner Walsh Constructors, also of Bethel.
Ana Hoffman is CEO of Bethel Native Corporation. She also has a family fish camp on the slough. She wrote to the Coast Guard, which she says identified the barge as a navigational hazard that requires no action on their part.
“I was pretty alarmed that the barge really is left there sunken in the middle of the slough. It seems to be a real hazard,” said Hoffman.
She called on Alaska’s Senators for help. Senator Lisa Murkowski met with residents about the problem. Murkowski’s office says they’ve been monitoring the situation and in touch with state officials about the barge. Still, nothing has been done.
Harry Faulkner, an owner of Faulkner Walsh Constructors says State Department of Environmental Conservation and the DNR have their facts wrong. He says he was done leasing the ‘Shanks Ark’ barge, which he was using to haul fish, by the time it was moored in Steamboat Slough.
“We put it away for the year and it decided to float itself out in the Spring of the following year. (Daysha Eaton: They said it happened while it was moored and you were still leasing it.) Faulkner: That is not correct. We had it leased for the year and we were done with it. (Daysha Eaton: Okay, can you send me the documents that show the time period for which you were leasing it?) Faulkner: No. (Daysha Eaton: Why not?) Because it was a verbal agreement between the fish manager and Dave Ausdahl, the owner of the barge,” said Faulkner.
Dave Ausdahl refutes Faulkers claim and says Faulkner Walsh failed to secure the vessel when they put it away after fishing season.
“I provided the barge to Faulkner Walsh for their fishery operations in exchange for them fetching and returning to storage each year and keeping it floating. So it was under their care, custody and control through the 2012 season when they were to put it away properly,” said Ausdahl.
But they didn’t put it away properly, claims Ausdahl, which caused it to float out into the middle of the Slough and get stuck. Neither Faulkner nor Ausdahl said they’d heard about Fisher’s terrible crash last winter.
Anvil says she’s not sure who is responsible for removing the barge, but she hopes it happens before someone else gets hurt.
“It’s gonna start getting dark pretty soon and at nighttime you can’t see that there’s a barge there … so I’m sure somebody’s gonna get hurt,” said Anvil
‘Shanks Ark’ is one of several rusting vessels that make the slough look like a graveyard for river going barges. At last count, state officials say there were 22 abandoned vessels in the Bethel area, 13 of them in Steamboat slough.
DNR officials say the company operating the barge when it broke loose is responsibility for removing it.
Faulkner Walsh has submitted a plan to remove their sunken barge near Kwethluk, and two vessels in Steamboat Slough, but never removed any of them. They have not submitted a plan to remove ‘Shanks Ark’ which remains in the middle of the channel.