BROOKPORT, Ill. — Commercial river traffic was flowing once again early this week following an eight-day shutdown of one of the oldest and busiest lock and dams on the Ohio or Mississippi river.
More than 40 towboats and barges were backed up because of the shutdown to Lock and Dam 52 along the Ohio River, a key transportation route for grain as well as other commodities.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, who oversee the river navigation system, worked for the better part of two days to replace a nearly 700-foot-wide gap in the span of wooden wickets that make up the dam, said Carol Labashosky, a spokeswoman for the Corps’ division in Louisville, Ky.
“We did our best to get it up and operating as quickly as possible,” she said. “Wickets are what hold the dam up, and with the wickets as old as they are, they break down on a more frequent basis.”
To make the emergency repairs, divers needed the water flow lessened so that the pool level at the dam would be decreased, so early last week the Corps began restricting flow from the Barkley Lake Dam while similar flow restrictions were put in place by the Tennessee Valley Authority at the Kentucky Lake Dam.
The repairs, which Labashosky said will need to be reinforced with a new rock dyke, cost thousands of dollars, but she didn’t have an exact number. The construction of a rock dyke, which should get the dam through to the fall of 2018, is estimated to cost about $1.3 million and will take about a month to complete.
Dam 52 and its sister dam, No. 53 near Smithland, Ky., are the two oldest structures remaining along the Ohio, constructed in the 1920s and scheduled to be replaced by a new mega dam near Olmsted, Ill.
Olmsted, originally designed to cost about $775 million in 1988 and to be completed by 1998, has had numerous cost overruns and delays. It is now scheduled to be completed by next fall at a cost of about $3 billion. Once operating, the two aged locks and dams will be shut down.
“We can’t wait until next fall,” Labashosky said. “Until then, we have to do what we can to make sure traffic continues to flow through regularly.”
The area along the Ohio River remains one of the busiest of any inland waterway in the United States, with about 80 million tons of grain, coal, fuel and other goods moving through the Brookport facility each year.
Labashosky added while river levels are lower during this time of the year, and sometimes force limited traffic through tighter spots along the Ohio and Mississippi, water levels are not expected to be so low as to require traffic limitations in the coming weeks.