DMR investigates underwater debris field

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The DMR is warning boaters to avoid an area near the Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge. An underwater debris field, just north of the bridge span, poses a real danger to navigation.

It is very likely some leftover remains from the old Biloxi-Ocean Springs Bridge. You'll recall Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged the old bridge, which was then demolished to clear the way for construction of the new high rise.

The DMR took a close-up look on Monday afternoon.

More than two dozen white PVC pipes mark the area of underwater obstructions. It is located on the Biloxi side of the bridge, just north of the high rise span. Although not in the channel, it's an area small fishing boats frequently navigate.

"Our recommendation to the public, the boating public, is to stay away from that area. I know it's used a lot for short cuts. But even our guys stay away from it. While they were putting the poles out, they did hit some debris with the motor," said DMR Interim Marine Patrol Chief Rusty Pittman.

The hazard was first marked by DMR marine patrol several weeks ago. A follow-up this past Friday showed the debris field extended to a much larger area.

"We placed 25 PVC pipes around what we could see, what we knew was there," said DMR spokesperson Melissa Scallan.

A DMR team used "side scan sonar" on Monday afternoon to try and get a better picture of what's hidden beneath the surface.

"It is exactly like ultra sound and lets us see. Hopefully, what we find out is what exactly is down there and how much is down there. And that will tell us what it's going to take to remove it," she explained.

They also used a long pole to explore the obstruction area.

"To see how far down the debris goes. And the could probably tell a little bit about how big it was by doing that also," said Scallan.

Underwater debris can be dangerous or even deadly to unsuspecting boaters. You'll recall that just over a year ago, Biloxi's Mark Barhonovich was killed when the boat he was riding in struck an underwater obstruction near a Deer Island restoration project.

"If you hit it hard, it could throw you forward of the bow and cause injuries to the captain and crew onboard. So the best thing to do if you do go through that area is to go real slow. Idle speed," said Pittman.

The DMR got some results back from the side-scan sonar, but nothing definitive. They're planning to go out again Wednesday. Once they determine exactly what the material is, then they'll address the issue of removing the debris and determine who is responsible for the clean-up.

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