Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) President & CEO Cornel Martin has issued the following statement regarding the January 27, 2010 failure of the miter gate at the main lock chamber at Greenup Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near Huntington, W.V. As a result of this incident, the Ohio River was closed to navigation for several days. The main chamber will remain closed for at least up to eight weeks. The auxiliary lock is currently back in operation; however, as repairs progress on the main chamber additional closures of the auxiliary lock may occur.
The failure of the miter gate arm and the decision to curtail lockages through the auxiliary chamber at Greenup may cause serious delays for the shippers who rely on an efficient inland waterways system to transport America’s critical cargoes such as coal, grain, soybeans, petroleum products, and aggregate materials. Consumers who depend on these products may also be impacted by the delays and higher costs incurred while the river and this structure is closed.
The estimated value of the losses to operators from this closure of both chambers was roughly $2m a week. Based on Corps of Engineers data, the average number of lockages through both the main and auxiliary chambers between the first quarters of 2007, 2008 and 2009 (for seven days) was 113 commercial boats ($1m) pushing 1,091 barges ($1m). (The weekly average was calculated against first quarter volumes only for those 3 years). These figures do not consider other equipment that is delayed by this closure or the costs/losses to shippers and the impact to state and local economies.
According to the Corps, this latest incident is one of seven major closures at Greenup over the last 13 years, totaling more than $26m in transportation delay costs. As a result of an eight-week main chamber closure in 2003, transportation delay costs were $13.2m, and ripple-effects from the closure totaled $30m.
Currently, 25% of locks and dams on the Ohio River have exceeded their design life. Within 10 years, that number will double.
The Greenup closure is on the heels of a September 27, 2009 failure of the miter gate at Markland Locks and Dam on the Ohio River near Cincinnati that required the main, 1,200-ft lock chamber to close, leaving only the 600-ft auxiliary chamber to accommodate traffic until the repair is completed. That 1,200 ft chamber is still closed four months later impeding traffic.
Waterways Council, Inc. urges attention to the critical problem of aging waterways’ infrastructure, and higher funding levels for Operations and Maintenance because the current “Fix-as-Fail” approach to maintaining the nation’s lock and dam structures has serious flaws, is hurting our economy and threatening jobs, as witnessed at Greenup and at Markland.
In a speech at a recent town hall meeting in Ohio, President Obama said, “…And we made the largest investment in infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System, putting Americans to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, waterways ― doing the work that America needs to be done.”
WCI urges President Obama and Congress to continue to invest in America’s waterway’s as they consider the jobs legislation and other funding measures being considered on Capitol Hill. We must invest in America’s waterways to keep America moving.