Crews Working to Complete Major Locks, Dam Repairs

Washington PA Observer Reporter
31 July 2012

CHARLEROI – Facing a tight deadline, crews have been working at breakneck speed to complete major repairs to a drained lock along the Monongahela River in order to reopen navigation at Charleroi.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers Monday completed the final pours of concrete to remove the old wooden sill below the upriver gates to the chamber at Locks and Dam No. 4, said Shawn Soltis, a corps field engineer assigned to the project.

“They’re trying to do a month’s work in 19 days,” Soltis said Monday. “They’re working around the clock trying to keep the navigation industry happy.” Industries that ship products through this lock were warned in March to prepare for the July 23 closure of the lock for maintenance, he said. “They’re anxious,” Soltis said, adding that the lock work had been scheduled to coincide with a coal miner holiday.

More than 1 million tons of coal, gravel, sand and fly ash pass through these lock gates a month, said Alan Nogy, acting lock master in Charleroi. His crews open and close the lock gates nearly 600 times a month to either raise or lower boats and their hauls past the dam. Nearly 85 percent of the cargo is coal en route to power plants or on to the port of New Orleans, Nogy said.

Repair workers needed to build a temporary dam at the downriver gates in order to drain the chamber. They also needed to install a row of pipe supports to brace the lock walls in place.

Normally there are two lock chambers here, but the other has been closed as part of another project designed to replace both locks over the next decade.

The lock under repair is 56 feet wide, 720 feet long and 35 feet deep, Nogy said.

Once drained, he said, the corps found “typical junk, nothing dramatic” on the chamber bottom, mostly tires and trees.

The exact time of the reopening has yet to be determined, Nogy said.

The corps noticed “more than ordinary traffic” during the month that preceded the closure as the navigation industry prepared for shipping to come to a halt, Soltis said.

Once the concrete is set, it will take the repair crew four days to return the lock to normal, Nogy said.

“The amount of work these guys have done is phenomenal,” he said. Copyright Observer Publishing Co.