Inland commercial navigation between Lewiston and Portland resumed March 26 with the official reopening of the navigation lock at Lower Monumental Lock and Dam on the lower Snake River, near Kahlotus, Wash.
The locks at The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams were closed Dec. 10, 2010, to enable Corps and contractor workers to replace their aging downstream lock gates during a planned extended outage coordinated with the inland navigation industry. These three locks and the other five locks along the Columbia-Snake River navigation system are now back in service, providing passage for commercial shippers and recreational boaters.
The reopening marked the end of the longest lock outage ever experienced on that navigation system. The towboat “Rebel,” pushing two barges – one loaded with shipping containers, the other with wood chips – was the first vessel to lock through Lower Monumental’s new gate at about 3 p.m.
Five other Corps of Engineers dams – Bonneville, near Cascade Locks, Ore.; McNary, near Umatilla, Ore.; Ice Harbor, near Burbank, Wash.; Little Goose, near Starbuck, Wash.; and Lower Granite, near Pomeroy, Wash. – took advantage of the available time without river traffic to accomplish additional maintenance work that normally could not be accomplished during the annual two-week winter maintenance outage. Outage periods for those locks ranged between 5 and 9 weeks with various closing and reopening dates.
“The downstream gate replacement has been a successful project for the navigation industry, taxpayers and the Corps,” said Walla Walla District Commander Lt. Col. David A. Caldwell. “This was a complex project and it went very well, thanks to the efforts, coordination and communication of our great staff, partners, and stakeholders.”
“River system stakeholders, who have closely followed this historic lock maintenance outage, applaud the team effort, led by the Corps of Engineers and its contractors,” said John Pigott, president of the Columbia River Towboat Association. “They successfully delivered the Columbia-Snake River navigation system back to its users and customers. We are thrilled today to have the river system intact and resuming its role as a reliable, major marine transportation corridor connecting our region, and nation to the world.”
“Overall trade on the system is expected to increase significantly over the next 15 years,” said Glenn Vanselow, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association executive director. “The infrastructure investments, maintenance, and repairs made during the closure have long-term benefits for the Northwest and those who depend on goods that travel by river. With the success of this closure, the river system will remain a tremendous asset to handle the expected upsurge in waterborne commerce in the future.”
The PNWA says the Columbia-Snake river system is the “Number 1 U.S. wheat export gateway, Number 1 U.S. barley export gateway, Number 1 West Coast wood export gateway, Number 1 in West Coast mineral bulk exports, and Number 2 on the West Coast for auto imports. The deep draft channel supports 40 million tons of cargo each year and 40,000 local jobs. The inland system supports 10 million tons of cargo, valued at $2 billion annually.”