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

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. — On Friday Jacksonville Waterways Commission wrapped up a discussion about the Bridgeport Barge incident at City Hall.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser remembers the frustration she felt more than a year ago when the Bridgeport Barge got stuck in the Atlantic Ocean.

In March of 2021, it hit the jetties spilling out coal ash from a Puerto Rico power plant.

“It just stayed there for months and months and so if something had happened within a few days it probably wouldn’t have gotten too much attention but the fact that the salvage operation couldn’t get it out of there. It just prompted more and more questions from people who live at the beach,” Mayor Glasser said.

It wasn’t until June that the Bridgeport Barge was finally moved to the Jacksonville shipyards.

The waterways commission is now looking at recommendations to give to the city on how to prevent an incident like this one from happening again in the future.

water sampling reports from the dept of environmental protection showed trace amounts of heavy metals following the spill, but a spokesperson for the d-e-p determined it wasn’t hazardous to marine life or people.

“This particular incident turned out not to be a problem, but we had the potential for a vessel sinking in the St. Johns River could have been a hazardous material, could have blocked navigation, could have blocked national assets into Mayport Naval Base,” Chair Robert Birtalan said.

Birtalan said they need to look at what other big port cities are doing and their response to an emergency.

This subcommittee is also looking into if anything is already in place here in Jacksonville.

Mayor Glasser said next time there’s a major incident or disaster there needs to be better communication.

“More aggressive notification by the responsible party by the department of environmental protection,” she said.

Glasser said one of the issues was getting information out to the public.

“People needed more. They wanted to know if their seafood was safe to eat, they wanted to know if it was safe to swim. There wasn’t a person on the ground that was giving them that reassurance,” Glasser said.

The Waterways Commission told Action News Jax next month there will be another public meeting at city hall where people can come and comment and share their opinions before they take their recommendations to the city council.