The U.S. Coast Guard will hold a weeklong hearing in early May in Ascension Parish over the Sunshine Bridge crash last year that shut or limited access to the Mississippi River span for months.
A crane barge being pushed upriver by the Kristin Alexis tugboat hit the bridge in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, became stuck under the bridge near Donaldsonville for several hours and caused serious structural damage that shut the bridge completely for more than a month.
The closure caused major disruptions in traffic flow, with over hourlong detours for commuters living on one side of the river and working on the other.
A Coast Guard statement issued Tuesday said the public hearing will be at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, beginning 8 a.m. May 6 and expected to last through May 11.
Matthew Meskun, the incident's lead investigator, said in January the May hearing would bring together key parties for public testimony and constitute the final stage of the Coast Guard's fact-finding before investigators analyze what they have found.
The Coast Guard, which is conducting a joint probe with the National Transportation Safety Board, has opened what's known as a marine casualty investigation into the crash.
Meskun, who is from the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Virginia, has said a report will follow that factual analysis and make findings, including referrals for enforcement action. Those actions can range from civil penalties for companies or people to the suspension and revocation of mariners' licenses.
The hearings next month also will be live-streamed at https://livestream.com/USCGinvestigations/events/8638209.
The bridge directly connects two sides of St. James Parish just east of Donaldsonville but also provides an important link for the east and west banks of Ascension and other parishes in the area.
After the crash, the entire four-lane bridge, which handles about 25,000 vehicles per day, was shuttered until two lanes reopened Dec. 1 following a series of emergency repairs.
Those initial repairs were finished and the four-lane bridge was partially reopened to three lanes in late March. But the state has resumed previously scheduled repairs, unrelated to and delayed by the barge crash, that are expected to keep the bridge partially closed through the summer.
Officials with Marquette Transportation, which owns the tugboat, have previously pledged to cooperate with the probe. Cooper Consolidated officials have said the crane on their barge, the D/B Mr. Ervin, was properly in its cradle and none of their workers were operating the barge or on it at the time of the crash.
The public and interested parties can to provide information, ask questions and make comments related to the ongoing investigation during the hearing at email@example.com.
The Coast Guard is also monitoring any email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. All information sent to that address will be reviewed and responded to, the agency says.