Duval County

A year after Bridgeport Barge spills coal ash into sea, city discusses prevention tactics

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Last May, approximately 9,000 tons of coal ash used to make concrete spilled into the mouth of the St. Johns River.

It happened after the Bridgeport barge from Puerto Rico ran aground in March and subsequently got caught in a storm.

RELATED STORY: Bridgeport barge moved to Northeast Florida shipyards

On Thursday, the Jacksonville Waterways Commission met to go over the incident once again.

“It exposes multiple toxic chemicals, like arsenic, mercury, kadium and others,” said Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns riverkeeper.

While the State’s Department of Environmental Protection found the trace amount of chemicals didn’t cause water quality violations, or harm to either marine life or people, city leaders don’t want to test their luck again.

RELATED STORY: Jacksonville Waterways Commission talks lessons learned from last year’s Bridgeport Barge Incident

“Given the barge cargo, this could’ve been a lot worse,” said Adam Hoyles, an environmental consultant who also serves on the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board.

A newly released report from the Coast Guard shows training could’ve prevented the barge from running aground in the first place.

But training is beyond the scope of what the city can control, so it wants to take more proactive steps like securing federal funding for more buoys along the jetty.

These would serve as visual markers for captains who are unfamiliar with where rocks could be in the water.

“In high tides, they disappear,” said Robert Birtalan, who is secretary of the St. Johns Marine Group, and is part of the Jacksonville Waterways Commission.

Attorney and former council member Lindsey Brock, who’s running for city council again, is taking this proposal to the Coast Guard later this summer.

INVESTIGATES: ‘Trace amounts’ of toxic, heavy metals found near Bridgeport barge, DEP says

“It’s gonna be a process but we believe that there’s really good reasons for expediting this as much as we can,” he said. “So, years, maybe?” asked Action News Jax reporter Jessica Barreto. “Could be years,” said Brock.

The Jacksonville Waterways Commission also wants to take more effective reactive steps, like a better line of communication to get information to the public.

“They don’t have to be unnecessarily afraid just because they see a ship that’s aground offshore,” Brock pointed out.

“If there’s a need for panic, people need to know it,” Birtalan said. “But if there’s not, there’s not.”

The barge was moved to the Shipyards last June. However, these efforts to protect the river continue.

“It shapes our quality of life as well as it shapes our economy,” Rinaman stressed.

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