Thursday, August 16, 2018

Speedway growth

Marathon Petroleum boats are a familiar sight on the Ohio River. One of them is named the Speedway, which also is a Marathon operation that is growing substantially, as this article explains. Most of the growth is outside the Ohio Valley, but still, growth is growth.

Another problem at Locks and Dam 52

This came out yesterday, and for some reason my email provider sent it to the spam box, so I didn't see it until today.

There's another problem at Locks and Dam 52. From a navigation notice:

The primary (1200’) lock chamber at Locks and Dam 52 will be closed for 48 hours between Saturday August 25th and Tuesday August 28th. Marietta Repair Station will be performing repairs to the lower miter gate. Inflows coming into the project site will dictate whether or not the auxiliary chamber is open or closed due to out draft conditions.

I wonder if the Corps of  Engineers will lay off half its repair fleet when the old dam goes out of service permanently here in a few weeks, if all goes according to schedule.

Monday, August 13, 2018

M/V Ray S

This boat passed Huntington yesterday, but I almost missed the picture because ... well, check the bottom of this entry.

The M/V Ray S is owned by Enterprise Marine Services of Houma, La. It was built in 2017 and is 96 feet long by 34 feet wide and 10.8 feet deep.

My younger son, Adam, and I were crossing a bridge when I saw the Ray S heading up the river past Huntington. I figured  I could get a good picture at a park in a residential area. That's where boats come fairly close to shore before going around a sharp bent to the right.

As we drove on a residential street near the park, Adam began laughing. He said he just saw a woman pulling weeds while a shirtless guy played the trombone. Only in Huntington, he said. We had to get the picture, so we circled the block. By the time we got back there, they were walking away. The photo op was gone.

When we got to the park, the boat was passing us and I didn't have time to get down to the river  bank, so this was what I could get.

I would rather have gotten a picture of the woman being serenaded by a trombone player as she pulled weeds, but you take what you can get.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Today The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington ran my column on investment in river infrastructure.

I'll have more on this later this week.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Lock problems at Montgomery

Steps are being taken to keep commerce flowing on the upper part of the Ohio River before a lock failure forces a complete shutdown of unknown duration.

The Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued this news release Aug. 2:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District awarded a $1.09-million contract recently to C. J. Mahan Construction Company, LLC of Columbus, Ohio to install a temporary repair to the severely cracked and unstable middle-lock wall at the Ohio River’s Montgomery Lock and Dam near Monaca, Pennsylvania.
Engineers calculate that the middle wall, which separates the lock’s two chambers, has a 50-percent chance of failing by 2028 if left unaddressed.
A middle-wall failure would halt navigation on the upper Ohio River, significantly impacting shipments of coal, heating oil, aggregates, road salt and other vital commodities.
The temporary repair is an interim measure meant to slow the wall’s deterioration rate until a permanent fix can be performed. Repairs are anticipated to take approximately 1.5 years.
Temporary lock closures and delays may occur during the work, which is expected to start later this year.
“This vital effort to reduce the risk of failure at Montgomery Lock and Dam will help ensure that we are providing safe and reliable navigation, which greatly contributes to the regional economy,” said Col. Andrew J. Short, commander, Pittsburgh District.
A permanent solution to address conditions at Montgomery is planned as part of the authorized $2.7-billion Upper Ohio Navigation Project. The solution will involve construction of new 110-feet-wide by 600-feet-long lock chambers at each of the first three Ohio River navigation facilities at Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery.
The Upper Ohio Navigation Project is currently in the engineering and design phase while concurrently undergoing an economic re-evaluation of the project benefits.
Barging bulk commodities on the area’s three rivers provides significant benefits to the region. It significantly reduces the wear and tear on roadways, causes considerably less pollution than other modes of transportation and reduces the cost of electricity due to transportation rate savings over truck and rail delivery of coal.
The district’s navigation structures not only provide reliable river commerce, but they create sustained pools that provide water supply for drinking, industrial use, firefighting and other uses. The sustained pools provided by navigation dams also encourage riverfront and economic development within the region.
Pittsburgh District’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Maryland and southwestern New York. It includes more than 328 miles of navigable waterways, 23 navigation locks and dams, 16 multi-purpose flood control reservoirs, 42 local flood-protection projects and other projects to protect and enhance the nation’s water resources infrastructure and environment.

The Montgomery Locks and Dam is in Pennsylvania at Mile 31.7. It was built in the 1930s.

Unlike at Locks and Dam 52 on the lower Ohio, a lock failure at Montgomery would shut down the entire river to traffic, as there is no navigable pass at Montgomery that boats can use to bypass the locks when the river is running high.

Perhaps someday the Ohio will have all its navigation infrastructure updated and in great shape so more attention can be given to other rivers. Especially to projects where the need is not critical but some upgrades would prevent another situation like that at Montgomery.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Locks and Dam 52, Part 4: The M/V Odette Cenac

For the final part of this series before I take a little break to organize a humongous amount of material about the Olmsted Locks and Dam, here are ten photos of the M/V Odette Cenac locking through 52 downbound on July 25. No comments except for these three:

One photo shows the M/V Chuck Piepmeier in its role of a helper boat getting another tow aligned  to enter the locks, just as it did the Odette Cenac a few minutes earlier. I did not get the name of the other boat.

And if you want to hear the groaning noises the upper lock gates make when they open (in this case reluctantly for some reason) check out this video on YouTube.

The final comment is after the last photo.

There was one other aspect of the visit to Locks and Dam 52 that stuck me that has nothing to do with the condition of the dam itself. I'll get to it in a later entry.

Locks and Dam 52, Part 3: Shippers' frustrations

The part of the Ohio River from Paducah, Ky., to the mouth at Cairo, Ill., is the busiest, and along with the Mississippi River there at Cairo, it forms what has been called the hub of the inland river transportation system because of the amount of cargo that moves through there.

One boat heads up the Ohio River while another waits its turn to enter Locks and Dam 52. Boats tied up waiting to use the lock are a common sight in the Paducah area.

Yet because of continuing problems at Locks and Dam 52 there between Paducah and Brookport, Ill., it's also the most trouble to those who ship by river and those who operate the boats.

Locks and dams 52 and 53 are to be taken out of service and replaced by the new Olmsted Locks and Dam a mile or so below 53 sometime in the next two months. It can't come soon enough for shippers.

The big advantage Olmsted will have over the older dams, which are nearing their 90th birthdays, is reliability, said Daniel Mecklenborg, senior vice president, chief legal officer and secretary of Ingram Barge Co., at an event in Paducah last week to brief media on the problems at 52 and what Olmsted means to shippers.

Inefficiencies at 52 and 53 “are just killers for us,” he said.

"The need to re-invest in infrastructure like Olmsted is absolutely critical."

Daniel Mecklenborg

The past three summers, mechanical problems at 52 have caused the river to be closed to navigation.

Check out this news release issued by the Louisville District on Tuesday, July 10, 2018:

The navigation pass at Lock and Dam 52 (Ohio River Mile 938.9), Brookport, Illinois, is now closed to river traffic to facilitate diving operations for wicket repairs on the dam. ...

The dive deflector box is being installed and diving operations will commence to repair/replace wickets. Repairs to the navigable pass wickets will add reliability to the dam and allow for a potentially shorter dam raising. Keeping Lock and Dam 52 operational is required for construction and training benefits at Olmsted Locks and Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is mitigating the closure by preparing the 1200’ foot lock chamber for navigation, which is planned to be operational for locking river traffic by Wednesday, July 11. The navigable pass is also expected to reopen to river traffic on Wednesday during nighttime hours when daily diving operations have concluded.

Or this one, dated Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017:

The Ohio River is closed at Locks and Dam 52 (Ohio River Mile 938.9) at Brookport, Illinois. ...

While raising the wicket dam on Thursday, Sept.7, 2017 project personnel encountered a problem area and were unable to continue raising the wickets due to high velocity flows around the end of the dam.

The Corps is currently working multiple courses of action in order to continue raising the remaining 676 ft. of wicket dam and impound a navigable pool. ...

Or this news release issued by the Louisville District on  Thursday,Sept. 15, 2016:

LOUISVILLE, KY. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District reopened navigation traffic Wednesday at approximately 8 p.m. Central Time at Ohio River Locks and Dam 52 at Brookport, Illinois, after workers successfully raised the dam.

The Corps reduced water releases from Smithland Locks and Dam upstream around 3 a.m. Wednesday to provide better river conditions for the Corps to raise dam wickets at Locks and Dam 52. The reduced water releases resulted in a lower pool level, which stopped commercial navigation from locking through Locks and Dam 52 around 5 a.m.  

Based on the contingency plan to hold pool at the dam, the Corps had announced it could take up to seven days to reopen the river to commercial traffic. If the low river conditions had not been addressed, based on National Weather Service forecasts and historical data, the project could have lost pool and caused weeks of navigation impacts.  ...

The Corps closed the locks at 52 after the dam lost three wickets when their base connections failed and attempts to raise remaining wickets were unsuccessful because of river and dam conditions.

It seems that every year, national media discover the problems at 52 and bring attention to them, such as this piece in the New York Times two years ago.

Marty Hettel, vice president of government affairs for American Commercial Barge Line and chairman of the Inland Waterways Users Board, described the ongoing problems at 52 with a few numbers.

It takes three days to raise the dam, Hettel said. But 63 wickets are inoperable, meaning 13 percent of the dam has failed.

“Thank goodness we’ve had enough precipitation to hold pool at 52,” he said.

Hettel said the Corps has a contractor on site with rock to build a dike around the dam should it be needed to hold the pool.

Last year, some factories last year had to send people home because they couldn’t get material delivered thanks to problems at 52, Hettel said.

Matt Ricketts, president and CEO of Crouse Corp., said export coal is a market that’s been active for a year or so. Most coal that moves by water moves on the Ohio and its tributaries, he said.

“When you look at export coal in particular, 52 and Olmsted are critical” because of the volume that moves from Illinois and Kentucky to New Orleans, Ricketts said. Shipments must be timed so coal mined in West Virginia can meet an ocean vessel in New Orleans at a certain time, he said.

There is still some construction work at Olmsted, and crews that will raise and lower the wickets there are training. The day after industry spokesmen talked about 52 and Olmsted, the Corps conducted a media tour so people could see Olmsted  up close.

Col. Antoinette Gant, commander of the Corps' Louisville District, said Olmsted will be operational soon and the wickets at 52 and 53 will be lowered for good.

"Have no fear. Olmsted  is near," she said.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Locks and Dam 52, Part 2: Images

If you're used to seeing the big concrete and steel dams that control most of the Ohio River, your first look at Locks and Dam 52 might be ... perplexing.

Unlike those modern structures that can be seen for miles, this one has to be seen close up to get an idea of what much of the Ohio River navigation system looked like from about 1912 to about 1962.

It sounds different, too. Water coming through the Tainter gates of the modern dams makes a roar. Water flowing through the wickets of 52 is more like a soothing waterfall. Not soothing to the pilots who must navigate the locks or to the dam workers who must raise and lower those wickets according to river conditions, but soothing to a visitor, perhaps.

Following are images captured during a visit to Locks and Dam 52 on July 25. I had asked to visit either Locks and Dam 52 or 53, but the wickets at 53 were down that day. I did get to visit 53 back in 1986, before everything was fenced off following 9/11, but the wickets were down then, too.

All these photos from 52 were taken at the top of the bank. For safety reasons, the Corps would not allow me to go down beside the locks while boats were locking. They let me do that in 1986. I even walked out over the locks and boarded the maneuver boat, but that was then. Things change in 32 years.

Here goes:

The dam as seen from down the river. A worker told me the wickets in the center were down to allow river flow to pass through. I thought that normally was done by the beartraps when the dam is up, but the beartraps apparently are in as bad shape as the wicket section is.

And the dam seen from above, as much as can be seen.

In the foreground is the sign on the 1,200-foot lock letting boat workers know how far they are below the upper gates. Then there's a gap, the original 600-foot lock and the dam. It looks like something has taken a chunk out of the old lock wall.

Here's the lower end of the old lock wall.

If you want to catch how the water sounds coming through the dam, check out this video I uploaded to YouTube. It was done with a cell phone. It was hand held, which explains the movement of the camera during the 20 seconds of video.

The land wall of the long lock is made of steel cells filled with concrete. Between the cells are sections of steel to fill the gaps. I didn't county how many there were, but many were like this, but many had been corroded away completely.

In case you're wondering how the lock holds water when the wall has this many holes in it, there is additional material at each end of the lock. Still, it probably increases the time it takes the deteriorating valve system to fill and empty the lock during lockages.

The building where the lockmaster has his office.

And some of the old worker housing.

When the wicket dams were built in the period from about 1908 to 1929, they included places for workers to live. Some of those old houses survive, but many have been demolished. These looked as though they had not been used in a while, and there was driftwood on the sidewalk in front of them, so I'm guess no one lives in them. But, as usual, I could be wrong.

I didn't have time to run up to Golconda, Ill., where Lock and Dam 51 was replaced by the Smithland Locks and Dam in 1980. From what it looked like on Google Maps, the old houses there were saved and repurposed.

There were several boats in the dam area that day.

That would include the mv. Amy Gettle, seen here heading up the Ohio after making the 52 lock. The mv. Chuck Piepmeier helped boats enter the main lock from upriver. It was good to see the  Piepmeier again.

Finally, 52 as seen from the Interstate 24 bridge.

This was one of those shots where I steered with my left hand while watching the road and aimed the camera in the general direction of the dam while hoping I would get one usable shot from about a dozen clicks. I did get one. This one.

Up next: Industry folks talk about the problems 52 gives them. Then a few more photos from 52 to wrap things up before we move on to the 30-year, $3 billion solution at Omsted.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Locks and Dam 52, Part 1: Its Days Are Numbered

Locks and Dam 52 has done its job for the past 90 years or so, but its time is over.

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and executives from companies that operate towboats or companies that ship product by water can give you the numbers of why they need the new Olmsted Locks and Dam completed, but sometimes you have to see and hear things for yourself to get a full understanding of what they're saying.

That was what I did last week while on a media tour of Olmsted organized and sponsored by the Waterways Council Inc. Speakers talked of the need to complete Olmsted and retire 52 (more on that later). The seasoned journalist in me wanted more, so I asked the commander of the Corps' Louisville District if I could be allowed access inside the security zone at 52 to see for myself what the problems are. She said that would be no problem, so when everyone else had left for home, I headed for Brookport, Ill., to visit Locks and Dam 52.

It was the first time I had been there since 1986, and things had changed. At that time, the temporary lock was still in service and the dam looked to be in good condition. But 32 years and 23 days later, it was clear that age had been hard on the old dam and the locks.

You could hear some of the operating equipment groaning like an animal in pain every time it was put in use, and you could hear a rhythmic banging coming from somewhere out in the river. Parts of the dam were missing, too.

First some facts. Part of the following information came from two YouTube videos produced by the Corps. You can find them here and here. Part is from other research I have done on the old Ohio River dam system out of personal interest.

Locks and Dam 52, formerly Lock and Dam 52, was completed in 1929, the same year as the similar Lock and Dam 53 (now Locks and Dam 53). They were the last two dams in the system authorized by Congress in 1909. Some of the old dams were planned and under construction before 1909.

The completion of dams 52 and 53 brought to an end the process that began when the Davis Island Lock and Dam went into operation near Pittsburgh in 1879 — 50 years earlier. That process was to make the Ohio navigable year-round regardless of drought.

Locks and Dam 52 is 2,998 feet long. It consists of the original lock that measures 110 feet wide by 600 feet long. That was the standard Ohio River lock length in the early 20th Century. In 1969, a temporary lock 1,200 feet long was added. The lock received the Corps' Chief of Engineers Award for its innovative technical features. It was designed to have a service life of 10 years. It's approaching its 50th anniversary.

The temporary lock was made of circular cells of sheet steel filled with concrete. Corrosion, wear and impacts from barge hits have damaged them over the years and now threaten their structural integrity. Some cells have split open, requiring the lock to be closed for repairs. In addition, the lock's filling and emptying valves have deteriorated, too.

The old 600-foot lock likewise has deteriorated with age.

The dam maintains a navigation pool of 302 feet above mean sea level for 20.5 miles up the Ohio to the Smithland Locks and Dam and on the lower parts of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, both of which empty into the Ohio a few miles above 52. When Dam 53 is raised, Dam 52 provides a 12-foot lift.

The dam consists of a navigable pass that is 1,248 feet long. It also has a Chanoine weir that is 160 feet long, three beartraps of 91 feet each to help regulate the river level and a fixed concrete weir of 725 feet.

The dam consists of 487 wickets made of oak. Each is four feet wide, and they are up to 20 feet long. They are raised and lowered manually to maintain the pool at 302 feet. Raising them is a hazardous job that takes 12 to 16 hours to accomplish and must be done regardless of weather. After nearly 90 years of service, the wickets and their cast iron frames are aging and require constant maintenance. As of July 25, several were missing or not in use.

Repairs to the wickets are done two at a time by divers working behind a shutterbox to protect them from the river current.

Shutdowns of the lock because of mechanical problems or because of problems with the dam are frequent, and on many days there is a line of boats waiting to use the lock.

Up next: More images from Locks and Dam 52.

Postscript: My thanks to Col. Antoinette Gant, commander of the Louisville District, to Wayland Humphrey, director of operations transition for the Louisville District of the Olmsted project and the district's public affairs staff for allowing the visit. Also to Deb Calhoun, senior vice president of the WCI, for arranging the media tour and sponsoring it. And to the various industry speakers who will be quoted about their problems with 52 in posts coming soon.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Coal shipments, second quarter

The second quarter of this year was one of recovery for coal on the Ohio River, probably because of export markets.

Here is a chart of selected Ohio River locks and dams and three on the tributaries to show how coal shipments changed from the second quarter of last year to the second quarter of this year.
Coal shipments, second quarter (thousands of tons)
Dam20172018ChangePct. change
Pike Island5,901.193,358.39-2,542.80-43.1%
Lock & Dam 523,242.235,183.321,941.0959.9%
Lock & Dam 2 (Monongahela)2,105.691,628.37-477.32-22.7%
Winfield (Kanawha)1,262.601,510.10247.5019.6%
Kentucky (Tennessee)1,871.901,932.9161.013.3%
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Notice the big change on the Lower Ohio. To check things out, here is a graph of how downbound shipments through Locks and Dam 52 were monthly since the beginning of 2017.

Month Tons (thousands)
Jan 2017         759.65
Feb 2017         891.89
Mar 2017         661.32
Apr 2017         383.93
May 2017         758.38
Jun 2017         607.16
Jul 2017         466.54
Aug 2017         714.92
Sep 2017         648.04
Oct 2017         852.81
Nov 2017      1,043.92
Dec 2017      1,260.09
Jan 2018      1,499.92
Feb 2018      1,379.40
Mar 2018      1,421.34
Apr 2017         958.72
May 2018      1,003.47
Jun 2018      1,113.73

Using comparisons for Locks and Dam 52 carries the usual caveats that any of the frequent outages there can slow down movement of any material in a given time frame. Yet it’s easy to see that a lot more coal is heading down the river there, probably for export.

Meanwhile, the news remains mixed on the two sides of the Kanawha River. Coal traffic through the Racine Locks and Dam continues to increase while tonnage through Gallipolis Robert C. Byrd lags and tonnage at Greenup decreases.

Railroads are reporting increased shipments of export coal as domestic use falls. Domestic markets face strong headwinds (to use corporate jargon) as coal-fired power plants are retired or cut back production because of competition from natural gas and renewables.

That’s why I added the Capt. Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam to this quarter’s list — to see how the shutdown of the Stuart and Killen power stations in the Meldahl pool may have affected movements through Meldahl and Greenup. In recent years, Meldahl had switched from Appalachian coal to Illinois Basin coal. And the retirements of Stuart and Killen had been announced so far in advance that we could expect reduced shipments as Dayton Power & Light managed its stockpiles at the two plants.

Back to the railroads: In the second quarter, CSX reported that it moved almost as much coal to export terminals as it did to domestic customers. Export coal was about 45 percent of all coal hauled for CSX. Domestic volume were down 11 percent in the quarter, while export tonnage was up 39 percent. That helped CSX report a coal volume increase of 6 percent in the quarter.

Export coal accounted for only 26 percent of Norfolk Southern’s coal business in the quarter. Export volumes increased 21 percent in the quarter while domestic utility volumes declined by 5 percent and domestic metallurgical volumes increased by 7 percent. Overall coal volume was up 3 percent in the quarter for Norfolk Southern,