Casino Barge Removed From Middle of U.S. 90

Mon October 10, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Cronin

After more than three weeks of work, highlighted by a series of explosions Sept. 21, the Grand Casino in Gulfport, MS, has been removed from the middle of U.S. 90.

The floating casino barge was washed into the highway when Hurricane Katrina walloped the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

David Seyfarth, an engineer at the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said the structure was too large to move or be floated back out to the gulf, so the decision was made to demolish it where it stood.

The crew from Tony Parnell Construction Co. Inc. in Vancleave, MS, was awarded an emergency contract to demolish the casino barge and remove the approximately 2,000 tons (1,814 t) of resulting material.

Tony Parnell, president of the firm, said his crew of approximately 26 workers first gutted the structure in preparation for the explosions. More than 20 pieces of equipment, primarily Caterpillar, assisted in removing that material, he said.

In addition, they had to ensure all of the contaminated water and sewage, as well as Freon from the air conditioning units, was removed.

Parnell said he, Project Manager Gary Matthews and Foremen Ray Self and Ed Griffen focused on the safety of their workers, as well as the preservation of the highway.

“We’re lessening the human involvement by as much as we can,” Parnell said.

That’s one of the reasons they decided to use explosives instead of relying solely on heavy equipment to perform the demolition. Had they gone that way, crew members would have had to spend more time inside the structure in a more dangerous location.

The explosives also allowed them to bring the structure straight down to preserve oak trees that stand just feet away, he said.

Following the explosions, which went off without a hitch, the crew members revved up the dozers, trackhoes with shears to cut through steel and skid steers to clear the site.

An American crawler crane was also on site to lift skid steers into the midst of the debris and some of the heavier chunks of the structure.

“We’re doing all we can do to not take up that roadway,” he said.

The casino itself had other plans. Seyfarth said the weight of the structure created ruts in the roadway. After the material from the casino has been completely cleared, contractors already working under emergency contracts will gain access to the site to make temporary repairs. Once all four lanes are operational, Seyfarth said MDOT will award a contract for a total restoration project he said will make the highway “as good or better than it was before.”

The contractor was encouraged to complete the job as quickly as possible to enable traffic to return to U.S. 90 sooner.

He said the company has boosted the number of crew members and equipment at the site to meet the time demands, which bumped up the contract amount.

Crews were delayed by a few days when they realized they didn’t have enough explosive power to cut through thicker-than-expected beams. The explosions had to slice the beams so the structure’s weight would force it to collapse.

The job was completed in early October, approximately 24 days after it began.

Parnell said most of the material will be hauled to a disposal site, although he may be able to recycle some of the steel. CEG