Tulsequah Chief mine tug tips on Taku River

Company says event not uncommon when passing in a whirlpool

Posted: Friday, July 04, 2008

On a narrow, tricky section of the Taku River, a tug escorting a barge to the Tulsequah Chief Mine got caught in a whirlpool Tuesday and tipped far to one side before righting itself, causing concern to onlookers and state regulators.

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Photos Courtesy Of Dale Douglas
Photos Courtesy Of Dale Douglas

A picture of the tug shows the Cricket on its side with propellers showing, the wheelhouse near the water, and a man squatting on the outside of the boat.

Redfern is owned by Vancouver, British Columbia-based Redcorp Resources Ltd. The company is developing a mine on the Tulsequah River, 40 miles northeast of Juneau, and transports equipment to the mine on barges along the Taku River. The company operates the only barges on the river.

Asked about reports of a tug running into trouble on the Taku, Redfern spokeswoman Salina Landstad wrote in an e-mail, "I am not sure where or how these rumors are developing, but there are no troublesome issues."

After reviewing the photo, Landstad said the situation was not serious.

"I think it's just the angle of whoever was taking the photo," she said.

"It's not uncommon for boats and tugs to tilt when passing through a whirlpool," she said. "It just depends on how you catch the wave."

"We just got caught in the current a little bit," said Dave Dalzell, president of Wainwright Marine Services, the Prince Rupert, British Columbia-based company that is running barges for Redfern this summer.

But state agencies that have been involved in discussions with the mine on its barge operations for icy seasons - no permits are required for summer barge operations on the Taku - were curious and concerned about what happened.

State Fish and Game biologist Ed Jones keeps an eye on the mine's summer barge operations, he said, because Fish and Game operates several fish wheels on that section of the river, next to Canyon Island. The department has been doing mark-recapture studies there for about 30 years, he said.

He has been keeping an eye on the mine's barging since last year, when he documented a wave from a barge breaking one of the logs that act as a protective boom in front of the fish-wheel project.

Jones said he didn't know whether the barge was a cause, but he was concerned about the boom logs because last year more of them broke than in any previous year.

He knows the river from years of working there.

"The water is very deep and fast in this section of the river," he said after looking at the photo. "Ironically, they have just gone past the worst part and are in the calmer water located downstream."

Taku cabin owner Brad Pierce was personal-use fishing with two other men at the time and described the incident.

"It was quite the exciting little deal there," he said.

He said that a guide boat came through to warn fishermen to pull up their nets because the barge was coming through. He tied up his boat on the shore as usual.

Then came the first tug, the barge and the tug behind it.

Pierce saw the tug "attempting to steer the barge to one side of the river, and (it) got sideways in the current, and that pulled it over."

"The guy on the top was scrambling," he said.

He said someone turned off the tug's engine. The line to the barge came loose, the barge went on, and the tug righted itself.

Meanwhile, he and his companions were scrambling to help. The tug was back up quickly - within two minutes, according to Landstad - and was able to start its engine again.

Dale Douglas, one of Pierce's companions, was already snapping photos when the barge came through, because it's ordinarily exciting to see the barge come through, Pierce said.

No hazardous materials spills were reported to the state. A deckhand hurt his shoulder but did not require medical attention, according to Landstad.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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