Hydraulic Fluid Spill Closes New Cumberland Locks and Dam
15 December 2016
By Stephen Huba
Commercial barge traffic on the Ohio River near the New Cumberland
Locks and Dam has temporarily stopped because of a spill in the
main lock chamber.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District alerted
commercial navigation companies that operations at the facility
had halted after crews noticed a sheen inside the facility’s main
chamber shortly before 10 a.m. Monday.
The lock staff determined that the hydraulic system that operates
the main chamber’s four 170-ton miter gates and the emptying and
filling valves had failed.
“They had to determine whether (the spill) was coming from a
vessel that was passing through or coming from our system,” said
corps spokesman Jeff Hawk.
The closure effectively stops navigation on the Ohio River
upstream and downstream of the lock, creating a backlog of
commercial vessels. As of midafternoon Tuesday, nine towboats and
their barges were backed up in the queue.
“All barges trying to make their way up or down the river cannot
do so right now because that lock is completely closed to
navigation,” Hawk said.
The lock will be out of operation for at least the next few days
while engineers and maintenance crews determine a temporary
solution to bring the lock chamber back into service. A more
long-term fix could be several months away.
The Corps of Engineers immediately deployed spill response
measures to mitigate the spill and halted operation of the lock’s
The spill is mostly contained in the 110-foot by 1,200-foot
primary lock chamber, although a small amount of hydraulic fluid
did enter the waterway. Crews placed on-site spill containment
booms on the river to absorb fluid that escaped from the chamber
and to stop the spread of fluid.
The Pittsburgh District dispatched civil and environmental experts
to investigate the spill and reported the situation to the U.S.
Coast Guard’s National Response Center, navigation interests and
the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which
monitors water quality on the Ohio River.
The New Cumberland Locks and Dam is composed of two lock
chambers–an auxiliary and a main chamber. The auxiliary chamber
has been out of service for approximately two years due to
structural issues that prevent its safe operation.
Crews continue to monitor the situation. No further spillage is
expected due to the current shutdown of the hydraulic system and
closure of the chamber.
Mariners are advised to monitor marine radio channel 13 for