SOMERSET, Ky. (Oct. 22, 2020) – A new floating barge equipped with an air curtain burner began incinerating debris on Lake Cumberland this week, a move that will increase the efficiency of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District team charged with debris removal operations onboard the PRIDE of the Cumberland.
While deck hands worked to feed driftwood into the burner for the first time on Lake Cumberland near Waitsboro Recreation Area, Christian Stringer, PRIDE of the Cumberland master tender, said the new capability allows his team to burn debris instantly.
“We can burn anything that we can physically lift and put in there,” Stringer said.
Previously the Corps of Engineers would chip up wood and leave it on the shoreline. However, larger logs and stumps that could not be fed into the chipper were transported and burned at Lakeview on one end of the lake. The PRIDE of the Cumberland spent a lot of time transporting that debris, but now it can be incinerated on the water right on the floating barge.
There are also environmental benefits with the new air curtain burner. It burns much hotter than a normal fire, so it incinerates debris much faster with less smoke.
The average pile of debris on the shoreline is between 40 and 60 yards, which takes two to four days to burn, depending on how damp the wood. The new burner greatly reduces the time it takes to incinerate the same amount of debris.
“We just put in roughly 30 yards (into the air curtain burner) and it will be gone in the next hour,” Stringer said. “Once it is hot you can put anything straight out of the lake in it and it will burn it.”
Debris creates a hazardous environment for recreation and affects water quality on Lake Cumberland. Jesse Neal, who has lived in the area all his life, gets satisfaction working as the lead operator because he wants to remove objects floating in the lake that could possibly harm friends and family who visit and recreate.
“Wood in the water can tear motors off boats. It does feel good being able to clean up everything, making it nice (for people on the lake). We’re just here to make Lake Cumberland a lot cleaner,” he said.
When Neal operates the grapple crane, he said he sweats from the heat the burner puts off. But nonetheless, he stressed that he is very watchful and aware of what is going on below the pedestal he sits on because safety of the crew is his main concern. He explained that he tries to grab moderate-sized loads of debris to keep loose pieces from falling back into the lake or onto the barge where it could hurt Mark Calhoun or Michael Traxtle, deck hands that round out the team supporting the debris mission.
North Shore Marine Terminal and Logistics in Escanaba, Michigan, constructed and recently delivered the new 16-foot wide, 60-foot long and five-foot tall barge to the Corps of Engineers staff at Lake Cumberland.
Jonathan Friedman, Laurel River Lake and Lake Cumberland resource manager, said the Corps of Engineers works to remove debris to enhance water quality and for public safety.
“So many people swim in the lake, eat the fish out of the lake; we want to do whatever we can to keep the water clean,” Friedman said. “By removing debris off of the water it is a safety benefit so people can avoid striking whatever might be floating in the water.”
Friedman said it is a nonstop mission to remove debris because every storm carries in more debris from upstream into the lake, but lake goers are fortunate an asset exists like the PRIDE of the Cumberland to keep the water clean.
In 1997, Congressman Hal Rogers, Kentucky 5th Congressional District, started an initiative called "Personal Responsibility In a Desirable Environment,” a non-profit known as “PRIDE,” to educate and implement programs aimed at improving the environment in eastern Kentucky.
The “PRIDE” initiative led to funding and delivery of the PRIDE of the Cumberland in 2004 as a debris-cleaning vessel for 63,000 surface acres of water and 1,255 miles of wooded shoreline. In fiscal year 2020 the Corps received appropriations for the new floating barge and air curtain burner to more efficiently remove debris from Lake Cumberland.
The air curtain burner, manufactured by Air Burner, can process up to 10 tons of material per hour. By having it stationed on the new barge, the Corps of Engineers can keep the smoke and ash away from recreation areas and shorelines.
“Now we’ve got a seamless process. We’re able to collect the wood debris off of the water and immediately place that wood debris into the burner,” Friedman said. “So it will be a continuous operation rather than a static operation. We’re glad to do our part to help our visitors to enjoy cleaner, clearer waters here at Lake Cumberland.”
Chris Girdler, president and chief executive officer of Somerset Pulaski Economic Development Authority, said he’s excited to have the burner operating because it means clean water and enhances the ability of citizens and visitors to utilize the resources Lake Cumberland provides the region.
“With the fluctuations that our lake sees, the Corps of Engineers with the PRIDE of the Cumberland and the new barge and burner are making an extraordinary commitment to doing all that they can to clean up this lake, this environment and everything else that goes along with it,” Girdler said.
He added that the lake welcomes millions of visitors a year and the Corps of Engineers is a tremendous community partner that plays a large role in welcoming those visitors.
The PRIDE of the Cumberland has removed between 10,000 and 19,000 cubic yards of debris per operational season. In fiscal year 2019 the PRIDE removed enough debris to fill up nine Olympic-sized swimming pools.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Lake Cumberland on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/lakecumberland.)