For years, the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has talked about lengthening the auxiliary (smaller) lock at the Greenup Locks and Dam from its present 600 feet to 1,200 feet to match the length of the main lock. It has talked about innovative construction methods so construction would not require the closure of the main lock.
Now the corps is planning work at the J. T. Myers Locks and Dam (nee Uniontown Locks and Dam) just upstream from Evansville, Ind. The corps says it needs to cut away part of the riverbank to widen the area because barge tows keep hitting the bank as they approach the locks there. A news article from the Evansville Courier & Press on this is here.
The Greenup locks, which are the first ones below my home base of Huntington, W.Va., were basically designed in the 1940s. I know that because when I worked for the Huntington newspaper, I found an article from 1949 in the archives about a public hearing where the corps said it needed Greenup to replace locks and dams 27, 28, 29 and 30. Construction began in the 1950s, and the project was finished in -- I think -- 1961.
Greenup was one of the first of the modern dams on the Ohio. Another was New Cumberland, between Wheeling and Pittsburgh. The others new locks and dams were built on the same model.
These things are 50 years old or older, not counting the three -- Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery -- closest to Pittsburgh. The system needs all the upgrades it can get to ensure it endures another 50 years. The only wild card in this that I can see is coal. Most of the barge traffic on the Ohio is coal, much of which is used at power plants. Coal is under increasing scrutiny. The only alternatives I can see to replace coal in the Ohio Valley are natural gas and nuclear. I don't know about gas, but I do know that bringing nuclear into the region is a difficult, time-consuming and possibly politically poisonous process.
But the river is out of sight, out of mind to most people. They don't see it, so it doesn't affect their lives.
I don't deal with the locks and dams on a daily or weekly basis, so I'm in no position to say what absolutely needs to be done. Maybe Greenup and Myers need their extended locks. Maybe they don't. I just don't know.
What I don't hear coming out of Washington, D.C., lately is a lot of talk about inland navigation infrastructure nationally.
In other words, I have no idea what's going on behind the scenes, so maybe that's where I'll leave it right now. Oh, how I miss having access to find out this kind of stuff.