Corps of Engineers busy with winter full of lock repairs
Six locks receiving maintenance while shipping is halted during the cold weather.
WABASHA — Keeping the commerce moving on the Mississippi River is a job best done in the cold.
"Whether you like winter or not, it affords us a lot of time to do this maintenance without impacting our customers," said Jim Rand, chief of locks and dams for the St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
This winter is a busy one for the corps with six of the district's 13 locks receiving maintenance. The biggest project is happening at lock and dam 6 south of Winona near Trempealeau, Wis.
Rand said the work there includes emptying the lock of water so workers can access the lock chamber to repaint the gates, straighten damaged steel on them from tow boat accidents, and replace concrete and other components of the miter gates.
Infrastructure for new miter gates is being installed for lock numbers 5A, 8 and 10, Rand said. The anchors for the gates need to be installed before the new gates – replacing the original gates from when the lock and dam system was installed in the 1930s – arrive over the next few years.
The new miter gates will be heavier and will require new anchor infrastructure to accommodate the increased weight.
Locks 4 and 7 this year — near Alma, Wis., and La Crescent, respectively — will get renovated tow rail systems. That work, Rand said, includes taking off the top 4 feet of concrete along the guide wall, putting on new concrete and rail anchors, then installing a new rail for moving the boats and barges through the locks.
Normal wear and tear on those systems includes the fact that each barge can carry as much as 1,500 tons of commodities, and a 15-barge shipment means locking through nine barges at a time.
The work at locks 4 and 7 runs $3.5 million apiece, Rand said, but that work is being contracted out. That money is part of a $21 million, 3-year allotment to work on six different locks in the district.
Only the work on lock 6 is being done by corps maintenance workers since it requires their unique expertise on "dewatering" a lock and doing the maintenance within the lock.
Another $1 million is being spent on lock 6. That includes fixing the bent steel on a gate from a towboat accident, Rand said. Meanwhile, $9 million is being spent to replace miter gate anchorages on locks 5A, 8 and 10.
The goal is to keep the locks functioning for the commercial and recreational boat traffic that goes up and down the Mississippi River from St. Paul to Guttenberg, Iowa.
The work is partially funded by a fuel tax on commercial shipping vessels that navigate up and down the river carrying commodities, mostly grain, to ports for export. And that work, each winter, continues to keep the river traffic running in the cold weather.
"We’re planning work five years out," Rand said. "We already know what we’re going to do next winter, unless we have a critical component failure. Then we'll shift."