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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Drained lock exposes Ohio River bed

Work continues on repairing an aging lock along the Ohio River, the bottom of which has been exposed during the project. Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh

By Scott Beveridge

EMSWORTH, Pa. – Emergency repairs to an aging lock chamber are providing a rare glimpse of the bottom of the Ohio River.

The rocky riverbed has been exposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers while its workers make urgent, critical repairs to the row of emptying valves near the base of the main chamber used to lock boats through the dam at Emsworth, Pa.

Once drained, the workers discovered the valves are in worse condition than they originally thought, requiring the lock closing to be extended through July 26, said Jeff Hawk, a Corps spokesman in Pittsburgh who forwarded along the photo, above, of the work in progress.

It’s interesting to see the many scuff marks left behind on the wall by the many towboats and barges that have navigated through the locks that were built more than 80 years ago.

Hawk says the corps is working 24-hour shifts to complete the repairs and return navigation to normal along Pittsburgh’s three rivers.

Towboat crews have been experiencing 12 hour delays while moving their hauls along the river in the Emsworth area, about 8 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The delays are compounded by similar work downriver on the Ohio at Dashields Locks and Dam.

The navigation industry responded by creating stockpiles of coal and other goods at various sites along the rivers before the repair work began, Hawk said. This is the reason there has been much less barge traffic in recent weeks, he said.

"We realize that this will be an additional inconvenience to river users and we are pulling all available resources to focus on the task of repairing these severely deteriorated valves," said Col. Michael Crall, district engineer.

The corps isn’t experiencing any shortfall in the money it needs to complete this job and several others in the Pittsburgh region that is home to the oldest and most-fatigued locks and dams in the nation. The President Obama Administration is giving the corps $4.6 billion in federal stimulus money to modernize the navigation system.

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