BY FRANK MCCORMACK
November 13, 2017
The Harvey Canal Lock—the middle child of New Orleans’ three locks connecting the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) to the Mississippi River—is in the midst of its first dewatering since 2001. When complete, the lock will have four completely refurbished main miter gates, along with other improvements.
“For a 16-year stretch, things look pretty darn good,” said Victor Landry, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District, as he surveyed the dewatered lock late last month.
The Corps of Engineers designed and built the Harvey Canal Lock, which opened in 1934. Harvey Canal Lock’s older sibling is the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC), which opened in 1923. The young lock on the block, Algiers Lock, opened in 1953.
“This is sort of a mini IHNC,” Landry said. “It’s 425 feet long, so it’s rather short. It’s 75 feet wide, the standard width back then.”
Landry was notified back in the spring that funding for the dewatering operation was available for fiscal year 2017. He immediately reached out to the New Orleans District’s hard labor and shops teams to ensure they could execute the project with just six month’s notice. The answer was a resounding “yes,” with the closure beginning September 6.
Landry said, as with the shorter 2016 closure at Harvey when the Corps refurbished the lock’s original crane, he contacted the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in an effort to coordinate the lock closure with any maintenance work the state needed to do at the nearby 4th Street drawbridge. The state jumped at the chance, and the drawbridge is currently undergoing repairs as well.
“As soon as we started planning, they started planning,” Landry said.
The dual closures at the lock and the drawbridge mean mariners and companies along the Harvey Canal only have to deal with the closure once.
Landry said he’s often asked why the dewatering project had to occur during the midst of hurricane season, just like it did at the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock last year. Because of the way both the Harvey and IHNC locks were constructed, the river has to be at 6 feet or below to prevent uplift of the lock chamber.
“While it’s on timber piles, it doesn’t have uplift anchors on it like modern construction,” Landry said. “We need low water in the river, and coincidentally, this is our window.”
Weather impacts have been minimal this year. Hurricane Nate passed near the area in early October. Critical equipment had to be removed from the lock chamber, and the chamber was flooded with 3 or 4 feet, Landry said, just to be safe.
“We were back in operation that Monday, so we really only lost the weekend,” Landry said. “There were minimal impacts, but we took precautions as if a major storm was coming.”
The Corps’ heavy lift crane Brownlee is on site, lifting the four miter gates out of position back in September. Those gates were taken to Morgan City, La., where they’re being sandblasted and repainted. At the lock, the Corps is replacing the pintle balls in the chamber and refreshing the gate seals across the chamber. Corps crews are also removing old mooring bitts recessed into the chamber, which no longer are used, and replacing the turnbuckles for the miter gates.
The Corps also replaced the gate operating machinery for one of the miter gates (the other three have already been replaced). Lighting in the lock has also been updated.
The only job in the lock handled by contract workers has been replacing the expansion joints in the walls of the lock chamber.
The closure commenced September 6 and was originally scheduled to run through November 6, although the Corps now anticipates the lock will reopen December 4.
“The primary reason for the delay is that the 4th Street Bridge contractor won’t be able to allow us to pass under the bridge until around November 10,” Landry said. “They continue to have testing and commissioning of the bridge through November 16. The bridge work delays the Corps from moving in and out of the lock chamber to set the refurbished miter gates.”
After the refurbished gates are back in place, a gate tensioning crew from the St. Louis Engineer District will arrive to tension the gates. That work should commence after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Still Vital After 83 Years
The 83-year-old Harvey Canal Lock opened about nine years before the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was completed. And although the larger Algiers Lock shifted much of the barge traffic away from Harvey just 20 years later, the older lock nonetheless left an enduring mark on the GIWW. After all, the GIWW is measured in miles “east of the Harvey Lock” and “west of the Harvey Lock.”
And even though larger tows go through Algiers Lock, Harvey still serves the vibrant shipyard, oil and gas, and commercial fishing community along the Harvey Canal.
“You see a lot more crew boats, OSVs, and a lot of commercial fishermen—shrimpers and oystermen—crossing the river,” Landry said. “You still have a fair amount of barge traffic as well, but it’s single barges and not the big tows.”
Harvey also came in handy four years ago when Algiers Lock went down for emergency repairs. Landry said much of Algiers Lock’s typical traffic shifted to Port Allen during that closure, but traffic definitely picked up at Harvey as well.
“Instead of having single-digit tows on turn, there were 60, 70 or 80 on turn every day,” he said.
Harvey has actually been home to a canal in the same spot as the current lock for much more than 83 years. The original canal, part of the Harvey Plantation, dates at least to the mid 1800s. The remnants of an old lock on the site are still visible in the river levee on the downriver side of the lock’s riverside forebay. On the west side of the lock along 4th Street, a historical plaque marks the site of the “Harvey Castle,” a mansion where Marie Louise Destrehan and Joseph Hale Harvey, her husband, lived. The castle was built in 1844 and later served as a courthouse for Jefferson Parish from 1874 to 1884. The castle was razed in 1924 to make way for the current canal and lock.