Lockwork: Portland, Walla Walla districts conduct joint navigation lock outage for major repairs, inspections

Karim Delgado
Public Affairs Office

Portland and Walla Walla districts recently completed their second coordinated extended outage of all Corps-managed navigation locks within the Columbia-Snake River System to perform major repairs, maintenance and improvements.

Eight Corps-managed navigation locks on the Columbia-Snake River System received major repairs, maintenance and improvements. (Illustration by Jeffrey Henon, Public Affairs Office)

Eight Corps-managed navigation locks on the Columbia-Snake River System received major repairs, maintenance and improvements. (Illustration by Jeffrey Henon, Public Affairs Office)

The 14-week extended outage took place from Dec. 12 to March 20 and finished early or on-schedule for seven of the eight impacted locks and dams despite an extraordinarily cold and snowy winter. The re-opening of the lock at Walla Walla District’s Little Goose Lock and Dam, located on the Snake River in Washington state, was delayed until April 10 due to weather and mechanical problems.

While two-week closures for routine maintenance are conducted every year, additional extended outages are needed on occasion to maintain the long-term safety and viability of the locks, several of which have served the region for more than 60 years. Extended outages provide the opportunity to perform major non-routine repairs and improvements that cannot be completed within the shorter closures.

Because the region’s economy depends on the more than $20 billion of commerce passing through the entire Columbia river system each year, extended outages are comprehensively planned in advance to limit their impact to commercial river users, according to Jeff Ament, Portland District’s project manager for this year’s extended outage. Portland and Walla Walla districts’ extended outages are unique in the Corps because they are planned and conducted together to reduce such impacts. While the partnership between the two districts greatly increases the complexity of the effort, Ament explained the benefit to river users is worth it.

Crews at The Dalles Lock & Dam use scaffolding to traverse the massive downstream gate Jan. 5 as they make critical repairs and perform inspections on the dewatered lock. (Composite Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

Crews at The Dalles Lock & Dam use scaffolding to traverse the massive downstream gate Jan. 5 as they make critical repairs and perform inspections on the dewatered lock. (Composite Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

The Columbia-Snake River System supports more than 49 million tons of international trade, as well as more than 40,000 local jobs connected to trade, according to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.

“If we worked on one lock every year, the river system would be shut down for 14 weeks every year. The economic impact that kind of shutdown would have on river users would be terrible,” Ament said. “So we met up with them to come up with a better way.”

The result of those meetings was a comprehensive plan to conduct inter-district extended outages throughout the river system every five to seven years. The first such coordinated effort between both districts took place in the winter of 2010-2011.

For both the 2010-2011 and 2016-2017 extended outages, river users were given notice as much as two years in advance to allow them time to plan. Portland and Walla Walla districts co-hosted weekly public status meetings to update stakeholders and media on work being performed at the various locks. Those affected were also invited to visit the locks to witness major performance milestones during the outage.

Ament credited the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association for its role in amplifying awareness of the extended outage to its members. PNWA’s prominence as a non-profit trade association of regional ports and river users made it an indispensable partner during both planning and execution of the closures, according to Ament. Kristin Meira, PNWA’s executive director, said the Corps’ open lines of communication greatly contributed to the success of both extended outages.

“We’re very grateful to the Corps for keeping their foot on the gas through all the snow and ice,” Meira said of this year’s outage efforts. “The coordinated approach of these two districts means our export gateway is maintained in the most efficient manner possible, with the least impact to the thousands of American jobs connected to shipping on the river.”

The replacement upstream gate for The Dalles Lock and Dam is moved from the shop in Vancouver, Washington, where it was fabricated onto a barge Dec. 5. The 110.5-ton gate traveled for three days up the Columbia River to its destination. The gate replacement was the largest construction activity that occurred during the 2016-2017 Navigation Lock Extended Outage. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

The replacement upstream gate for The Dalles Lock and Dam is moved from the shop in Vancouver, Washington, where it was fabricated onto a barge Dec. 5. The 110.5-ton gate traveled for three days up the Columbia River to its destination. The gate replacement was the largest construction activity that occurred during the 2016-2017 Navigation Lock Extended Outage. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

 

The Columbia-Snake River System comprises 105 miles of deep draft channel and 360 miles of inland navigation from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho. It is the top wheat-export gateway in the nation and plays a major role in ensuring that farmers and manufacturers have the ability to economically export their goods into the competitive international marketplace by barge, according to PNWA.

Barging remains the most fuel-efficient and safest method of moving cargo, according to a 2009 study by the U.S. Maritime Administration. It takes 538 semitractor-trailers to transport the equivalent load of a four-barge tow. Additionally, barging is credited with fewer injuries and fatalities than both rail and truck transport. For one inland barge transport injury there are 2,171 road transport and 125 rail transport injuries.

Minimizing downtime during the Columbia-Snake River System navigation lock outage and maintaining the locks’ operational abilities ensures the safe and reliable flow of river traffic continues for the people and economy of the Pacific Northwest.

A new 110.5-ton upstream gate is lowered into its final position at the navigation lock at The Dalles Lock & Dam on Jan. 31. Media and stakeholders were invited to see the gate as it was lowered into place. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

A new 110.5-ton upstream gate is lowered into its final position at the navigation lock at The Dalles Lock & Dam on Jan. 31. Media and stakeholders were invited to see the gate as it was lowered into place. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

A crewmember pilots the remote-controlled hydraulic platform trailer used to move the upstream replacement gate for The Dalles Lock and Dam onto a barge. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)

A crewmember pilots the remote-controlled hydraulic platform trailer used to move the upstream replacement gate for The Dalles Lock and Dam onto a barge. (Photo by Karim Delgado, Public Affairs Office)