Lake Pontchartrain Causeway officials are investigating how a flotilla of barges broke loose of their moorings during bad weather and darkness, threatening the 24-mile span Monday morning.
They got loose about a mile west of the bridge, in 60 to 70 mile per hour gusts and choppy seas around 5 a.m.
"It was the last thing you want to do is actually have a major impact on the bridge and this could have been it," Causeway GM Carlton Dufrechou said. "Anything of that consequence, that magnitude, could have caused significant damage to the bridge."
The bridge was closed in both directions at the time because of the weather. Dufrechou admits, the bridge remained closed for at least another 90 minutes, as a tug boat on scene rounded up the barges.
The barges belong to L & A Contracting out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The company is tearing down the old, storm-damaged nine mile turn around on the bridge.
Three other barges in the same area actually held their moorings during the storm.
"The concern we have had and we still need to run through in the after-action report with them is the other barges that remained moored, for an hour plus, no one knew exactly where they were," Dufrechou said. "That was extremely concerning to all of us."
Drawbridge supervisor Barry Watts manned the radar in the bridge's control tower and helped the tug boat captain eventually pinpoint the barges.
"We don't want anything to hit any part of the bridge," Watts said. "That's why we have this set up the way we do. All of our safety precautions came into play."
Watts admits they all breathed a sigh of relief when all the barges were finally secured.
"Everybody was very happy to have a good outcome and nothing bad happened," Watts said. "There was a lot of inconvenience, but nothing bad as far as life or loss of property or anything."
Dufrechou said the contractor didn't work on Sunday to prepare for the bad weather.
The barges were moored at least a mile from the bridge, as required, when the storm passed through the area.
"That's exactly why the barges move off station when they're not working and more down," Dufrechou said. "The contingency worked."
Our calls to L&A Contracting were not returned.
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