Lock Gate Move Begins Maintenance Project at Byrd Locks and Dam

[unknown source]
6 December 2012
By Jim Ross

Some of the 290-ton moving parts of the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam have not had major repair work since they were installed nearly a quarter of a century ago. On Dec. 6, one of those parts was taken out of the water for a long repair job.

The part in question was one of the lock gates, which open and close to let boats and barges pass through the dam. The morning of Dec. 6, the largest floating crane on the inland waterways was at the Byrd locks to lift the gate and carry it to a nearby spot where it could be worked on.

The Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam is on the Ohio River about 15 miles south of Point Pleasant. It has two locks – one 1,200 feet long and one 600 feet long – to allow boats to make the 26-foot difference in the river created by the dam. The R.C. Byrd pool extends up the Ohio River to the Racine Locks and Dam, which is below Ravenswood, and up the Kanawha River to Winfield in Putnam County.

The locks are used heavily by barges hauling coal, limestone, chemicals and petroleum-based products. The gate that was lifted out of the water Dec. 6 was one of the upper gates on the smaller lock. It is 61 feet tall and 58 feet wide. It weighs 290 tons.

Scott Kinzel, a mechanical engineer with the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said several parts of the gate will be removed and replaced or repaired.

If the weather is good on Dec. 7 – meaning among other things no wind – the other upper gate in the small lock will be removed. Kinzel said he expects the repair work on the two gates to take all winter, considering there will be only a five-person crew working on them.

Next year, the same work will be done on the gates to the main (larger) lock, which is the one used by most commercial vessels.

"We're sort of practicing on this. We didn't want to take the main chamber down and encounter problems," Kinzel said. "This is already taking longer than we expected."

Gate failures have caused major traffic backups and shipping delays at the Greenup Locks and Dam below Huntington and the Markland Locks and Dam below Cincinnati.

Most of the locks and dams in the Huntington District are in good shape, but because of some of them are 40 to 50 years old, they are in need of major repairs. The Byrd locks are the newest locks on the Ohio.

The procedure used at the locks on Dec. 6 was simple, but because of the size of everything involved, it was done slowly and carefully. The last part connecting the gate to the lock wall was cut away, and then the crane slowly lifted the gate out of the water. A boat maneuvering the crane and the gate hanging from it backed up about 700 feet, moved 30 feet to the side and then went forward 700 feet into the larger lock.

In a parking lot on land beside the lock, workers had laid out large pieces of wood for the gates to be placed on. The crane turned about 90 degrees and lowered the gate. Welders attached some pieces to the bottom of the gate before it was lowered on its side for repairs.

The first attempt to place the gate on its side failed when the gate moved ahead and knocked over some of the wood supports. The boat pushing the crane backed up a short distance so the crane could put the gate on the second set of wood blocks, which it did successfully.