Lock and Dam Drained for Repairs

Morgantown Dominion Post
22 October 2014
By Conor Griffith

From your car to your kitchen, the Monongahela River is more than just a body of water that bisects the county.

Richard Lockwood, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District, said about 800 tons of cargo move down the Mon to Pittsburgh every year, a 102-mile journey — and facilities like the Morgantown Lock and Dam are vital to keeping that traffic moving.

Cranes from the Corps of Engineers’ repair fleet are at the facility to make some much needed repairs. Also helping with the repairs are tug boats, barges and more than 70 craftsmen.

In order to make repairs on the lock, the pool was drained, leaving a muddy lane which is usually filled with 20 feet of water.

Lockwood said draining the pool hasn’t happened at the facility since the 1990s.

The water was drained so crews could access the concrete underneath the lock gates. Previous diving inspections revealed cracks in the concrete, allowing water to seep out of the pool used by vessels to pass the dam.

The lock gates themselves were removed and placed onto one of the fleet’s barges until the repairs are finished. Then they will be put back. Some of the barges are host to machine shops to produce the things needed to get the job done.

“We’re kind of in the business of restoring antiques,” Lockwood said. “This facility was built back in 1959. A lot of the parts they need are no longer available so they’re very good at restoring parts or producing their own.”

Chuck Beckham, general foreman for the facility, said the energy to pump all the water out was provided by generators on the repair fleet’s barges.

Lockwood said the Corps also will repair two of the dam’s six gates, which are inoperable. He said the fleet is expected to be in the area until Nov. 5.

Lockwood said the Morgantown Lock and Dam needed the repairs for about two years, but funds for repairs are allocated based on commercial tonnage that passes through each dam. The upper Mon River is in the mid-funding range. The Corps has about $15-$18 million a year for operations and maintenance for the river.

“This river is an essential infrastructure and it’s critical that these facilities be maintained,” said Barry Pallay, the president of the nonprofit Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA).

Pallay said the Mon River saw a drop in commercial use when the Clean Air Act went into effect because high sulfur coal, which made up much of the river traffic, was no longer viable.

Still, the river serves as an inexpensive way to move large quantities of coal to riverside power plants and gasoline to area fuel stations. He said the river also provides drinking water to 100,000 people locally and even more in the Pittsburgh area.

Pallay said UMRA hopes to see more recreational boating on the river and more commercial use as the oil and natural gas industries ramp up.

He said it’s vital that Congress provide the Corps with the funds it needs to maintain lock and dam facilities since there’s not enough money to build new ones.

Lockwood said the Olmsted Locks and Dam, under construction on the Ohio River, has a price tag of $2.9 billion.