DMR divers will check out metal hazard in Biloxi Bay

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A thick steel bar, the type that’s used to reinforce large pieces of concrete, is sticking out of the water at low tide on the north side of the Biloxi Bay Bridge, about 200 yards off the Biloxi shore.

At high tide, it’s underwater, which makes it even more dangerous to boaters.

A reader alerted the Sun Herald to the hazard this week, and a Department of Marine Resources spokeswoman said the agency plans to send divers out today to check it out.

It’s about five-eighths inch in diameter and protrudes at a 30-degree angle between the Biloxi Bay Bridge and the new Point Cadet Fishing Bridge, but much closer to the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

When the Sun Herald checked it out this week, it found another metal rod as well, about 3 feet long but not as thick, about 100 feet from the first. That one also looks like rebar.

The thicker metal rod had been marked in makeshift ways with a float and PVC pipe, some of which has broken off. The other was not well marked.

A reader said he discovered the thicker rod a year ago and after investigating believes it’s embedded in a huge chunk of concrete possibly coming out of the floor of the bay. And fearing it would tear up the bottom of a boat or throw a driver if he hit it, he cut up an orange life vest and marked the bar. He said he reported it to marine officials and went back and marked it again with PVC and found it had been marked by other people.

He wanted to know if pieces of the old Biloxi Bay Bridge — demolished after Katrina while the new bridge was being built — had been left behind. And what could be done.

Who’s responsible?

Melissa Scallan, DMR spokeswoman, said her agency sent someone out to look at it in late August or early September.

She said the DMR also marked it then.

When asked Thursday what else the state agency might do, she said, “We just had a meeting about it.”

She said the DMR divers will try to see how big an underwater structure the rebar is attached to.

“If it’s big, it’s going to cost a lot of money to get it out of there,” she said.

She said it could be part either of one of the old bridges demolished after Katrina or something washed up by a storm.

“What we do depends on what’s down there,” Scallan said.

And as far as who might be responsible for it, “That’s going to be hard to tell.”

Tale of two bridges

Because the Coast needed the vital Biloxi Bay Bridge rebuilt as soon as possible after Katrina, MDOT’s Kelly Castleberry said the state allowed the contractor, which was actually a group of contractors, to begin building the new bridge while it tore down the old one.

Castleberry said when the old bridge was demolished and the pilings cut off several feet below the bottom of the bay, the state did a visual inspection over two to three months to make sure all the debris was removed. He said the material from the old bridge was used to build up a reef near Deer Island.

Castleberry said they ran sonar of the channel under the bridge to make sure there was no debris there — the rest was a visual but thorough method of checking.

“When we closed the project out, everything was cleaned up,” he said. But if they determine it is left from that project, MDOT would make an effort to remove it.

He suggested the obstacles in the bay now may have been forced up or washed in by the wave action of subsequent storms.

Vincent Creel, Biloxi’s public affairs director, said the city was responsible for the removal of rubble from the old Point Cadet Fishing Bridge, “and that rubble was successfully removed as confirmed through side sonar scans” conducted by the DMR.

Scallan pointed out the Biloxi Bay Bridge was demolished in 2006 and the fishing pier rebuilt more recently. And the DMR has no idea how long the protruding rebar has been in the water.

She said rather than use side-scan sonar to check it out now, they have determined to send the dive team.

“The DMR didn’t demolish those bridges or carry off that debris,” she said. “But we do feel a responsibility for public safety in the water.”

Source

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