Kuskokwim River freeze-up causes complications for Bethel barge service

The Bethel Boat Harbor on Nov. 13, 2014. (Photo by Dean Swope)

The ongoing freeze-up on the Kuskokwim River has been causing issues for barge companies. Last month, one boat belonging to Alaska Logistics spilled oil and another got stuck, both due to ice. 

On Oct. 25, an Alaska Logistics boat spilled transmission fluid into the Port of Bethel. The report to the U.S. Coast Guard states that the boat’s crew was trying to move ice out of the way with an excavator and punctured the hull.

Alaska Logistics President Allyn Long said that only 3 to 4 gallons of fluid leaked into the river. He said that the crew immediately dropped an oil-absorbent boom into the water and cleaned up the spill. 

While the Coast Guard was notified, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation told KYUK that they have no record of anyone reporting the incident. DEC Unit Supervisor Lisa Krebs-Barsis says that responsible parties are required to alert the DEC of spills of any size

“In Bethel, we have response equipment staged and ready to go for use by the community when there’s a spill,” Krebs-Barsis said. “And the way to get those resources is to contact the department.”

This was not Alaska Logistics’ only complication with ice last month. In early October, a piece of ice pushed one of its barges onto a sand bank near Aniak. Port Director Allen Wold says that the barge is still there now. He says that the barge was headed for Red Devil loaded with riprap, or basketball-sized rocks. Aniak resident Mike Robbins says that the barge has now been flooded to stabilize it.

Long says that the company’s issues are due to the unpredictable freezing, thawing, and refreezing of the ice. Wold says that with the late freeze up this year, some barge companies are trying to squeeze in some final trips.

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