Monday, August 27, 2018

M/V MAP Runner

Entering the Big Sandy River on a Sunday evening.

There's a campground at the park in the background. There are times I wish I had a camper so I could park myself there a few days and watch the busyness at this spot.

Olmsted Locks and Dam, part 2 of ?

The thing about the Olmsted Locks and Dam that sets it apart from others on the Ohio, apart from the expense and time that were required to build it, is the fact that it seems to be a hybrid operation.

For part of the year, the dam is not needed to maintain the minimum navigation channel depth of 9 to 12 feet. Thus, part of the dam uses tainter gates the dams built since the 1950s do, and part will rely on wickets the way the dams built in the early 1900s do or did. Those would include Locks and Dam 52 and Locks and Dam 53, which Olmsted will replace.

With the benefit of more than a century of improvements in technology, Olmsted won’t be like your great-grandfather’s wicket dam. The navigable pass at Olmsted will be about 1,400 feet wide and will be controlled by 140 wickets. Each wicket is about 10 feet wide and 28 feet tall. They are made of steel and weigh about 33,000 pounds each.

There will be a gap of about 4 to 8 inches between wickets, and in times of low flow those gaps can be closed with needles, the same as at the old dams.

Each wicket will have a GPS locator, and the boat raises the wickets will be equipped with sonar to make sure each wicket is where it’s supposed to be. Wickets will be raised and lowered by a double-boom crane that moves across the river via a winch.

The process of raising all 1,400 wickets will take 24 to 36 hours. Last month and, I assume, into this month work crews have been training on raising and lowering wickets to ensure that all goes well when the dam goes into full operation.

The final work in installing 1,400 wickets at the Olmsted Lock and Dam and training in raising and lowering them was underway on July 25. For those who are curious, the boat on the far side of the river is the St. James of Marquette Transportation. If I recall correctly, the top of the wickets in the raised position will be level with the concrete weir on the far (Kentucky) side o f the river.

Because the herders, as the slots on the river bottom where the wickets’ supports are called, tend to fill with sand, gravel and debris, jetter nozzles will be used from time to time to blast that stuff out.

Sometime after the dam goes into operation, wickets will be on a 10-year replacement cycle, with 140 being removed and replaced each year.

I wish I had gotten the direct quote, but it was more in an informal question after the official press briefing at the dam last month. I asked Col. Antoinette Gant, commander of the Louisville District of the Army Corps of Engineers, if relying on wickets would mean trouble down the road. How could we be confident that 50 years from now that Olmsted would not be as big a problem as 52 is now, I asked. She was emphatic that with improvements in engineering and technology, Olmsted would be in better shape 50 years from now than 52 was at the same point in its life.

Up next: More on the dam, its unique construction and lessons learned.

P.S. If you’re interested in more information about the Olmsted project, you can view the media kit here. The official dedication and ribboncutting ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, on the Illinois side of the project. I wish I could be there, but time, money and transportation get in the way, as always.