Columbia River Barge Traffic
by David Krapf
On Sept. 5, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River due to a crack in a concrete sill at the foot of the downstream lock gate. The shutdown will last through September.
Less than 40 miles from Portland, Ore., this portion of the river is critical to wheat exporters seeking access to multiple grain elevators located downriver, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Lock operators observed issues closing the lock gate and determined that continued operation posed risks of further damage to other lock components. The next day, Sept. 6, engineers determined the lock had a leak and the Corps Portland District issued a contract to inspect and repair the lock. Engineers and experts drained and inspected the lock to assess the needed repairs. Demolition of the damaged concrete sill at the downstream end of the navigation lock and cleanup are finished, and engineers and experts have inspected the gate foundation to assess its condition and repairs.
With demolition and clean-up of the sill complete, drilling through concrete has begun.
According to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association (PNWA), the Columbia Snake River System "is the nation's single largest wheat export gateway, transporting over 50% of all U.S. wheat to markets overseas. Eleven states export through the CSRS, which moved over 14 million metric tons of wheat in 2017."
"[The situation] shows the critical need to fund a comprehensive maintenance and rehabilitation program for the eight locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers," Kristin Meira, PNWA executive director told the The Daily News, (Longview, Wash.)
"This river system is one of the region's and nation's chief cargo transportation arteries, and the failure of any one lock can have a huge and potentially catastrophic impact on the economy of the Pacific Northwest and a number of sectors throughout the nation," Meira said.
Last week, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River Waterways Management Division contacted local commercial fleets and reported that 14 commercial vessels will be affected by the lock closure -- seven from Tidewater Barge Lines, four from Shaver Transportation, and three from American Cruise Lines.
The Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the Bonneville navigation lock will "return to service" on Sept. 30 at 10 a.m.
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