A crew works to refloat a barge that sunk in Grand Traverse Bay in November.

GREILICKVILLE — Crews worked to refloat a sunken barge in West Grand Traverse Bay after the vessel turned heads and raised concerns over pollution.

Several people were aboard the barge, atop which sat a crane and other equipment, Thursday afternoon working to pump water out of the vessel. The barge was anchored between two former oil depot docks, one of which now serves as a marina, and floating booms penned in the area between the two docks.

Those booms were placed Dec. 3 to better contain a sheen spotted on the water, believed to be from residual oils on the barge’s deck, according to a U.S. Coast Guard release. The USCG got a report on Nov. 30 of a sheen visible around the sunken barge, and responded along with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and local first responders.

The barge sank in about 10 feet of water and no one was aboard at the time, according to the USCG release.

The possibility that 40 gallons of diesel and other fuel could be on board, along with smaller amounts of hydraulic fluid, concerned Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay Executive Director Christine Crissman, she said.

“So the fortunate part is that the amounts are not very significant,” she said. “The unfortunate part is that the barge and the crane have been in the water for about a week and a half, so there’s been an opportunity for those fluids definitely to be able to get into the water.”

Crissman credited the USCG for the quick response, and the booms should’ve captured whatever didn’t evaporate from the surface, she said. But hydraulic fluid is heavier and could sink to the lake bottom.

That said, the area’s been extensively developed and sees heavy boat traffic, so it’s not high-quality wildlife habitat, Crissman said.

A message to EGLE wasn’t returned Thursday, and a phone number listed on a trailer for a company at the salvage site wasn’t working.

Plans are to tow the barge to another location for repairs once it’s been refloated, according to a USCG release.

The barge is owned by Moses Balcom of Balcom Marine Construction Inc, as previously reported. A tugboat owned by the same company was recovered after it sank in Paradesia Bay north of Northport in September 2019.

Crissman said it’s important for boat owners to be sure their vessels are properly anchored or secured, especially before blustery fall and early winter weather.

“The bay is a little bit more protected, but we still get fairly high waves out there and with higher water levels a wind storm is definitely going to cause these boats to move a little bit or maybe break away, so being able to check on those boats or move those boats to make sure they’re successfully anchored or tied up is really important,” she said.


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