Crane atop barge clips power lines, causes outage in Virginia


A construction crane mounted on a deck barge clipped overhead electrical lines while the vessel was underway in the Elizabeth River, closing the waterway and knocking out power to thousands of Virginia residents.

The 900-hp pushboat Goose Creek was guiding the crane between the Gilmerton Bridge and the High Rise Bridge in Chesapeake when the incident occurred at about 1145 on June 20. The power lines owned by Dominion Energy are located about halfway between the two spans.

Three people were on the barge when the crane boom struck the power lines. They were not injured, and the crane was not damaged.

“It looks like it did not pull all the lines down, just the bottom three,” said Capt. Steve Bradley, spokesman and assistant fire marshal for the Chesapeake (Va.) Fire Department, which responded to the incident. “The crane was just a few feet too tall.”

The Coast Guard is investigating the incident but has not determined a cause, according to Corinne Zilnicki, a service spokeswoman in Norfolk, Va. She would not provide the name of the barge or height of the construction crane boom, citing the ongoing inquiry.

Ireland Marine Transportation of Chesapeake operates Goose Creek. Attempts to reach the company were not successful.

The crane involved in the incident was working on the High Rise Bridge project that involves construction of a new span over the Elizabeth River. Several large cranes are involved in the $409 million effort.

The transmission corridor across the Elizabeth River is listed on maritime charts. The power lines have an authorized clearance of 152 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chart for that section of the river. Another section of overhead lines just downriver has a clearance of 161 feet.

The Chesapeake Fire Department deployed a response vessel, Fire Boat I, to assist the Coast Guard with the river closure immediately after the incident, Bradley said. The waterway was closed for about 16 hours.

“The reason we remained on scene was to control the flow of marine traffic through that area so Dominion Energy could remove the lines from the water,” he said, adding that the department treats all downed lines as if they are “energized.”

Dominion Energy spokesman Jeremy Slayton said electricity was restored to affected customers within about an hour. Crews repaired the power lines a few days after the incident, he said.

“Our crews responded quickly and safely to restore power to the more than 21,000 customers impacted,” he said. “This incident is currently being investigated by Dominion Energy, including an assessment of the damages and potential claims related to that damage.”

By Professional Mariner Staff