Crews Prepare for Columbia Lock Closures
by Matthew Weaver
Capital Press, March 13, 2010
Work will shutter gates from December until March 2011
Work is already under way on the gates for three locks on the Columbia-Snake River system.
Beginning in December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will replace the downstream lock gates at The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams.
The closure will last until mid-March of 2011.
"The goal had always been to do as many projects in one closure as possible, so as not to have repeated closures of the system every few years," said Kristin Meira, government relations director for the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
The John Day project will cost $16 million, the Lower Monumental lock $14 million and the new downstream miter gate at The Dalles is funded through a combination of funding for the 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, Meira said. Derrick crane repairs at the McNary dam will cost $1.3 million.
All of the money is federal stimulus funds.
The corps and the association have been reached out to regional farmers, particularly grain growers, about the closure, she said.
Based on feedback the association has received, she said the majority of farmers plan to ship as much of their crop as possible before the closure, and then hold it during the closure.
"We expect a flurry of activity the second the locks are reopened in mid-March," she said.
Some growers are talking to rail lines to make alternate plans during the closure, but Meira said barges are typically the lowest-cost transportation mode for grain.
Burlington Northern spokesperson Suann Lundsberg said the rail company is surveying customers to assess demands at the time of the closure.
"We think we have the capacity, but we're still trying to figure out what that's going to be," she said. "The question right now is will the export elevators have the capacity? At this point, we're still trying to assess what all of that is."
Since receiving word of the funding for the project, the corps has been making plans, putting together contracts and constructing lock gates. Meira said the second phase would be delivery of the gates to each location, and the final stage is installation.
Scott Clemans, spokesman for the Portland district of the Corps of Engineers, said the corps has been in close contact with all lock users from the beginning of the renovation process.
"We do understand the impact of an extended outage like this," Clemans said. "We are working very hard to limit the length of the outage to the minimum amount of time we need to do a comprehensive job."
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