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High waters continue to delay chamber

by Minden Press-Herald

The incinerator as it was transported from MJ&H Fabrication, Inc. to the Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma. Courtesy Photo/MJ&H Fabrication

The incinerator as it was transported from MJ&H Fabrication, Inc. to the Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma. Courtesy Photo/MJ&H Fabrication

CAMP MINDEN — Floodwaters on three rivers continue to delay the transport of the contained burn unit that will destroy nearly 16 million pounds of M6 propellant stored at Camp Minden.

Col. Pete Schneider, with the Louisiana Army National Guard, says the problem is on the Arkansas River.

“The tug boats are making their way to the barge, but there’s still some issues with locks and river traffic,” he said. “The issue is on the Arkansas River with traffic coming south. But even when the tugs get there, they’re not going to be able to move the barge until they open the river coming south.”

The Arkansas River – where the unit continues to sit on a barge in Oklahoma – is at 21.19 feet as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage is at 22 feet. Charts show the Arkansas River at Van Buren is projected to be at 21 feet by Sunday.

The Mississippi River at Red River Landing, where the unit will switch from the Mississippi to the Red River, is at 59.11 feet as of 4 p.m. Wednesday. Flood stage for both rivers is at 48 feet.

John Stanley, director of the Webster Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, says the bodies of water are expected to crest within a couple of weeks.
“The conditions on the Red River are dangerous and I don’t think they can clear all the bridges yet,” he said of the halt to river traffic. “They have to wait for the river to settle before they can ship it.”

Stanley says the barge will take the unit on the Arkansas River all the way across the state to the Mississippi River, down to Red River Landing where it will travel north to the Port of Natchitoches on the Red River.

“That’s the holdup right there,” he said, “getting it across Arkansas to get it into the Mississippi. They can handle the Mississippi. All the bridges on the Mississippi River are exceedingly high. But they don’t have ship traffic on the Arkansas River, and some of their bridges are like ours. You can’t run anything under them.”

Schneider says the Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service are not giving him a timeline as to when the rivers will be open to traffic.

He says Explosive Service International, the contractor overseeing the construction of the contained burn unit and pollution abatement system, is continuing work at Camp Minden in preparation for when the burn chamber arrives.

“They’re still working,” he said. “They were doing some testing on the environmental system for when the chamber gets there to limit the amount of time they have to do to get the whole system up and running.”

The burn chamber left MJ&H Fabrication Inc. in Ponca City, Oklahoma on Dec. 14, 2015, and after days of slow travel through the streets of Oklahoma, the incinerator was loaded onto the barge Dec. 22 at the Port of Catoosa in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Once the chamber is on the move again, officials expect it to take 20 days to travel the waterways to the Natchitoches Parish Port.

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