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.