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‘Out of sight’ towing industry supports 10,000 West Virginia jobs


Charleston Gazette-Mail

Captain Chris “Critter” Gravely pilots the towboat Capt. Ed Harris as he maneuvers a load of empty barges on the Kanawha River.
(Gazette-Mail photo by Chris Dorst)

PORT AMHERST, W.Va.  — In the 22 years Chris “Critter” Gravely has spent working on the barges that churn their way up and down the Kanawha River, he has witnessed firsthand the decline of the coal industry.

The 43-year-old towboat captain spends about six months of each year working 20-day rotations on the river, carrying coal, aggregates and oil to customers between Point Pleasant, where the Kanawha meets the Ohio River, and Cannelton in the Upper Kanawha Valley, for Amherst Madison, Inc., which specializes in marine towing, construction and repair along the Ohio River and its tributaries.

Some days it feels like he knows this river better than he knows the back of his own hand.

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