Barge brought to surface of Tellico Lake

LOUDON CO., Tenn. (WVLT) -- A barge leaking oil and diesel fuel into Tellico Lake since Sunday has been brought to the surface.

It was a slow process as crews tried to bring the barge up intact, while minimizing pollution. The weight of the barge, and its deteriorating condition, meant crews were forced to try several different methods before successfully bringing the barge to the surface.

Thursday morning, divers attached cables to submerged cleats outside Lotterdale Cove in Loudon County. But attempts to the barge up failed.

Divers then placed airbags underneath the barge to release suction from the lake's bottom and take some weight away from the crane's lift.

Cable placed around the barge's hull eventually held the boat to the surface around 3 p.m. Crews pumped water from the hatches to continue to pull to floating.

Benjamin Franco, the EPA coordinator on site, said a containment area marked by 400-foot booms has kept leaking fuel close to shore. "It's in the best location, it's near the shore. It's in a lake so it's very still, so the conditions are perfect for containing the oil," he said.

Crews have inspected the lake shore for sheens since the barge sank Sunday. "We do that every morning and every afternoon before we leave, just to make sure that nothing has left containment. So far all the oil that has been found is inside the boom area," said Franco.

Initial estimates put about 180 gallons of fuel and oil in the barge's tank. Franco told Volunteer TV the EPA assumes most of that has leaked into the containment boom.

They hope to secure the barge above water Thursday. Sea Tow would inspect the barge before turning it over to local authorities. Friday the EPA will be on hand to remove the containment boom and treat remaining oil they find.

"It's a recreational lake. Everybody uses it, everybody lives on it, plays with it," said Franco. "It's not a good thing to have oil in the water. That's why we are out here to try to protect our natural resources."

The barge is owned by Marine Designs of Lenoir City and is used to install residential boat ramps.