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,

Thursday, July 26, 2018

This is what $3 billion looks like

A lot of it is under water for now, but soon it will be operational. Perhaps by the end of August. Or maybe the end of October.

Either way, construction on the Olmsted Locks and Dam below Paducah has taken a lot of time and a lot of money. I spent a couple of days down there this week as a guest of the Waterways Council Inc. as it prepared the media for the big dedication ceremony scheduled for the end of August.

More on all this over the next few days. There was a lot of information presented by a lot of people. Some newspapers are already running stories, and more will come, I'm sure.

And there was one other thing I got to do river-related that I had been wanting to do for a while. That will be another series of blog entries.

A lot of material to write and a lot of photos to prepare.

Confession: I cheated on the above photo a little bit to darken it and bring out some detail. It was bright and sunny and hot down there yesterday.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Article about new ferry service at Rising Sun

The Waterways Journal has posted a short article I wrote last week about the new ferry service at Rising Sun, Indiana.

Here are a couple more pictures from that day.

If my money allows, I plan to run down there next month and take a ride. I've been to Rising Sun three times. Now I'd like to give Rabbit Hash a try.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

American Queen in Huntington, part 2

Here are more photos of the American Queen's stop in Huntington (America's Best Community) this morning.

When I saw the fog, I was kind of excited. Getting a photo at sunrise would be good. Getting one with fog would be better, right?

The sun came up over the hill right as the fog lifted and the American Queen came around the bend.

Arriving at Harris Riverfront Park in beautiful downtown Huntington.

Deckhands do their jobs, and passengers see what commotion is happening.

Somebody has to operate the bow thrusters and other equipment to nudge the boat to the dock.

A few more images ...

... before it's time to go home.

I got to the park too late to see the boat leave, and given the harsh light of mid-afternoon, I wasn't in the mood to go chasing it. Anyway, the early morning arrival was enough to satisfy my cravings.

Oh, and one last image, supplied by a friend who works for the Huntington newspaper.

No, I'm not praying to the American Queen or offering her my sword or my treasure. I'm just getting a picture from a different angle.

The American Queen in Huntington

The American Queen arrived in Huntington around 7 a.m. today. Here are three quick and dirty edits. Lots more (and, I hope, better) to come as I take the time to go through them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Queen (corrected)

If I understand the schedules correctly, the Queen of the Mississippi will be in Huntington tonight and tomorrow and the American Queen will be forty miles away in Point Pleasant tomorrow.

I'll probably get pictures of both boats tomorrow, but ...

To quote a character on a popular television show, "I don't want to be a queen. I want to be the queen." To a lot of us who grew up along the Ohio River, there is one "the queen."

Maybe someday members of Congress can untie (or slice through) the political ropes that have kept the Delta Queen tied up for so long. If you think a lot of people follow the other two queens now, wait until the old boat comes up the river. Everyone with a camera will be following her trip. Drones will be bumping into each other. Excitement will exceed that of a college football game.

Maybe that's an exaggeration. Or maybe not.

CORRECTION: The American Queen will be in Huntington tomorrow morning. The Queen of the Mississippi has passed the city and headed for other parts.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Augusta Regatta

Augusta, Ky., had its annual regatta this past weekend. When I was down that way Thursday and saw several sternwheelers tied to the bank near the ferry landing, I figured something like that was about to happen.

This article in the Maysville newspaper includes an interview with the owners of the Dresden Belle. By coincidence, I was aboard the ferry and watched the boat come down the river and approach the dock.

Also at Augusta was the Don Robt.

I had seen it the Sunday before coming down the Ohio past Huntington. I thought I had a photo of it going under a bridge. If I did, it has vanished into the lumeniferous ether. Or I filed it in the wrong folder in my computer. Probably the second.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Two ferries

Coming home last week from the christening of the new ferry at Rising Sun, I took the river road to Maysville so I could, among other things, watch the Anderson and Augusta ferries in action. I'm a bit of a ferry fan, and I like to watch and/or ride them when I can.

First, the Anderson ferry on the western end of Cincinnati.

Then the Augusta ferry at Augusta, Ky.

Let's try that last one in two versions of black and white. One straight and one artsy.

My wife and I rode the Augusta ferry from Ohio to Kentucky and back as pedestrians. Although the day was sunny and hot, the ride on the river was cooler. The breeze helped.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Low flow in the Huntington District

The Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued this news release today.

HUNTINGTON, WV — Because of low water levels, the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will limit recreational boat lockage on the Ohio River. 
Effective immediately and until conditions abate, navigation locks on the Ohio, which includes Willow Island Locks, Belleville Locks, Racine Locks, R.C. Byrd Locks, Greenup Locks and Meldahl Locks, will only lock recreational craft through on even-numbered hours (2, 4, etc.). 
The locks on the Kanawha River – London, Marmet and Winfield Locks – will continue normal operations.

I've not found any similar statements from the Pittsburgh or Louisville districts.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sprayed with champagne

Before today, I had attended or covered at least six riverboat christenings — the Hoosier State, the Michael T. Somales, the Garry Lacey, the Chuck Piepmeier, the Findlay and the Tommy H — and maybe more. But today was the first time I stood too close to the champagne bottle as it was broken. The result: being doused in the stuff from head to toe. But it was a good day in Rising Sun, Ind., anyway as the Rising Star casino christened its new ferry, which should begin service to Rabbit Hash, Ky., next month.

On the way home, my wife and I stopped to see the Anderson ferry and to ride the Augusta ferry from Ohio to Kentucky and back as pedestrians.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A few photos from recent days

Sorry for the hiatus without warning.

To tide you over for a day or two, here are some photos I've gotten in recent days.