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Science and Environment

The Lily is a ghost barge, and she is floating down the Kuskokwim

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Olivia Ebertz
/
KYUK

Last fall, Alaska Logistics left two barges to freeze in Y-K Delta rivers. One barge has dislodged and become a free-floating ghost barge, winding down the Kuskokwim River. It’s been stuck at the Macivik Slough, just below Tuluksak, since May 10.

The ghost barge has a name. It’s called The Lily. It traveled about 170 river miles down the Kuskokwim after dislodging from the ice when the river broke up at Georgetown on May 8. Alaska Logistics owns the barge and left it to freeze in place last fall when an early cold snap sealed its wintry fate.

“I dunno, it just kinda caught us,” said Long, a co-owner and manager of Alaska Logistics.

Long said that he made the decision to let the Lily freeze into the river when ice started to form around it in October 2021 and her accompanying tugboat experienced motor issues. But he did take a couple of measures to secure it for breakup. His crew tried to brace the barge against a sandbar, then they fastened the loader it was carrying to its top, and they pumped it full of water to try to weigh it down and prevent it from capsizing.

“We pumped about 15[,000] or 20,000 gallons of water into it,” said Long.

But despite their efforts, the barge got loose and the loader on top moved.

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Olivia Ebertz
/
KYUK
The Lily's journey down the Kuskokwim

Willie Phillips from Tuluksak saw it more than 150 miles into its journey. He took a boat out for logging and spotted it on May 10 as it was passing the village.

“It seems like it shifted a little bit forward. The front area was lower than the back,” said Phillips.

It moved past the village and lodged into a sandbar at the Macivik Slough. Other villagers along the Kuskokwim have been checking on it.

Someone in Akiak traveled up the river to take photos of The Lily, and posted them to Facebook.

Long chuckles when he thinks about the barge entertaining Kuskokwim residents. He is not concerned about the barge drifting too far or floating out to sea.

“The likelihood of it getting out the mouth is very, very, very small. It'll go aground somewhere. Probably even before, I’m gonna say, Napakiak. Yeah. That would be my guess. Somewhere down there, somewhere probably around Oscarville,” said Long.

Long said that it’s not safe to go after the barge until the ice is all cleared from the river. Ice has jammed on the Kuskokwim at Bethel. But once it’s safe, Long said that it should be easy to get the barge back.

“We have our own tugboats and different friends that would help find it. People kind of on standby with fishing boats,” said Long.

The Lily wasn’t the only Alaska Logistics barge to freeze into Y-K Delta rivers last fall. Another barge froze near Eek, but they anchored that one and it’s stayed in place.

In 2019, Alaska Logistics had another barge freeze in place and then free-float down the Kuskokwim during spring break up in 2020. That one traveled from Aniak to Bethel.

Long said that his company has been moving freight by barge in the region for 20 years. He blames climate change for making freeze ups and breakups "more dramatic."

When Long left the barges to freeze into the rivers in the fall, the U.S. Coast Guard told KYUK that they were planning to do an investigation to see if there was any wrongdoing on the part of Alaska Logistics. The Coast Guard did not return phone calls on May 12.

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