One of the oldest missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to ensure safe and reliable navigation on our Nation's waterways. For the New Orleans District, this mission includes operating and maintaining eight locks along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the nation's third busiest inland waterway. If one of these locks becomes inoperable for any reason, it is the Corps' top priority to return the lock to service as soon as possible.
"It is rare that the Corps has a lock go down for an extended period of time," said Vic Landry, the Corps' operations manager for the GIWW, "but when we do, our team works around the clock to get it back online." And a team of Corps personnel and hired labor has been doing just that at the Algiers Lock in New Orleans.
In late March 2013, an underwater structural component of the 60-year old lock broke, damaging one set of the navigation gates and making the lock inoperable. In less than two hours after the incident, the Corps had assessed the damage and determined the best solution for returning the lock to service. It was determined that a dewatering of the Algiers Lock would be required with the gate being repaired on site. Repairs were estimated to take several weeks.
The Algiers Lock is located at the confluence of the GIWW and Mississippi River, and more than 2,800 barges, tows and vessels pass through this lock each month. Closure of the lock has a significant impact on navigation. The U.S. Coast Guard and Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association were notified of the lock damage, needed repairs and anticipated impacts to navigation. During closure of the Algiers Lock, shipping would need to use alternatives routes - either the much smaller Harvey Lock or the Morgan City channel to Port Allen Lock.
"With more than 25 million tons of commercial products going through this lock each year, we understand that each day the lock is closed has a major economic impact," said Landry. "Our focus has been to get these repairs completed as quickly and safely as possible.
Normally, the Corps utilizes the dewatering of a lock as a scheduled preventative maintenance effort conducted on a lock every 15 years. Once all of the water is removed from the lock, crews are able to clean, repair or replace components that are normally underwater and inaccessible. Unfortunately, national funding constraints have prevented the Corps from conducting these scheduled large-scale maintenance efforts on many of the structures. As a result, the Algiers Lock required an unscheduled dewatering to make repairs.
The crew has taken every measure to expedite the repairs and is utilizing materials and expertise from throughout the New Orleans District. The Corps anticipates the $5 million repair effort will be complete and the lock back in full operation no later than July 20, 2013.
"This is the first major closure we have had since the lock opened in 1953," said Landry. "I think that in itself is a testament to all of the men and women that work to keep navigation moving in South Louisiana."