Beginning this month, and lasting for several months, navigation locks at dams along the Columbia and Snake Rivers will be closed for maintenance and repairs. While there have been closures of the navigation system in the past, the impact of an extended closure hasn’t been fully realized before.
Ken Casavant, a professor of economics at Washington State University, is leading a multi-part study to look at all aspects of the closure, from how shippers will be affected, to how the closure could help transportation issues in other parts of the country.
“It should establish, not only for this disruption, but it should establish for other disruptions how shippers can prepare for, and react to these kinds of impacts,” said Casavant, who represented Washington State on the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in 1994-1998.
Casavant said the information gathered from the study could also be used for other major shipping routes, like the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers.
The closure of the locks is not only affecting shippers, but the barge companies and individual workers. That trickle-down effect through the job sector is making for some creative collaboration between all the parties involved.
“The shippers and carriers, and ports are working together very well trying to provide information, get everybody ready for the shutdown, mutually exploring alternatives to move the products, move the traffic during that time,” Casavant said.
Casavant said the closure would also show how the Northwest utilizes truck and railroads for shipping and what impact a long term return to non-river shipping methods would have on roads and the environment. He said it really depends on the commodity in regards to what form of alternative transportation will be used.
Casavant said the locks are expected to reopen by the middle of March 2011.