Locks and Dams

Concurrent Closures Planned At Three GIWW Locks

Operators on the Louisiana stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW) will have a trio of partial or total lock closures to deal with in late summer and fall, with work already underway at Calcasieu and Bayou Boeuf locks and a 90-day closure of Bayou Sorrel Lock set to begin August 15.

The Corps of Engineers is overseeing the removal and replacement of Calcasieu Lock’s south chamber guide wall, with daytime closures stretching from now to December 2019. Early into the work, the daytime closures and nighttime and weekend openings created a substantial bottleneck on either side of Calcasieu, with the queue swelling to more than 100 tows at one point.

The Corps and the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association (GICA) partnered to recruit volunteer watchstanders during locking hours in order to bolster lock operators’ efforts to clear the queue. From when the lock reopened to navigation for the weekend July 13 through Monday, July 16, some 113 tows locked through. Still, the queue the morning of July 16 stood at 80. By July 18, the queue was 102, with delays lasting between two and three days.

GICA President Jim Stark, in a message to members July 16, challenged vessel crews to help accelerate lockings by reporting full and accurate information when arriving on turn, by monitoring radios to avoid missed call outs, by moving with traffic as tows advance toward the lock, by avoiding unnecessary calls to the lockmaster on duty, and by “making best and efficient use of assist boats as needed.” In that message, Stark also reported that the Corps would increase lockings in one direction to 15 tows at a time to try to clear the queue as efficiently as possible.

To further aid in clearing the mammoth queue at Calcasieu, the Corps announced last week it would extend the weekend locking schedule this past week to begin at 5 p.m. July 19 and continue until 7 a.m. July 24.

“This is an attempt to bring long queue delays back down to manageable levels,” Stark said in a message to GICA members.

After the July 19 to July 24 opening, the construction schedule will return to the posted Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. time frame, which is expected to last until December 2019.

Bayou Boeuf Lock

About 150 miles to the east, the Corps is conducting another lock repair project at Bayou Boeuf Lock. The lock has actually been largely closed to navigation since late last year.

“In December, there was an accident that did significant damage to the east end gates,” said Tim Connell, operations manager for the New Orleans District.

Connell said immediately after the accident, the lock was able to remain in open-pass mode to allow traffic to continue.

“As the river rose, that alternative had to be stopped,” Connell said. “[Operators] had to take the bypass route through Bayou Chene and back around the lock to the Atchafalaya River. That’s the way we operated for several months.”

Connell said the Corps pulled the east end gate leafs and, while making the needed repairs, conducted a major refurbishment of the leafs as well. The east end gate was put back in place earlier this month, and Bayou Boeuf reopened to navigation—but just for a few days.

“Up until about a month or so ago, we thought that was going to be it,” Connell said. “Then we received substantial additional funding for maintenance at both Bayou Boeuf and Bayou Sorrel.”

For Bayou Boeuf, that work plan funding means the west end gate is also getting refurbished. The Corps began removing the west end gate leafs July 16, placing them adjacent to the lock where they will be refurbished on site.

Connell said that about a month and a half after that, the construction team on site will place the dewatering needles and reset the west end gate leafs.

“We still have lots of issues with the guidewalls,” Connell said. “For the chamber guidewall, that’s been a serious problem for quite some time. We’ve also received the funding to do a replacement of the chamber guidewall at Bayou Boeuf.”

Connell said the Corps is currently studying options for replacing Bayou Boeuf’s guidewalls.

During the west end gate refurbishment, Connell said he expects to be able to operate the lock in open-pass mode because it’s low-water season. However, during the dewatering or should the lock have to close, there’s still the Bayou Chene alternative, he said.

Bayou Sorrel Lock

About 40 miles north from Bayou Boeuf, the Corps is also preparing to close Bayou Sorrel for gate repair work. The north end gate at Bayou Sorrel was refurbished in 2015, at which time the Corps also inspected the south end.

“The corrosion and the condition of those gates were deemed to be very, very bad,” Connell said of Bayou Sorrel’s south end gate. “The last time that gate was dewatered was in 1991.”

Connell said the Corps originally planned to dewater and repair the south end gate at Bayou Sorrel in August, splitting the cost between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2019. However, they planned to postpone that job due to lack of funding in the 2019 budget.

“The budget was cut so significantly in FY19 that we made the determination we couldn’t proceed with the dewatering at Bayou Sorrel,” Connell said. “So we let industry know we were not going to do the dewatering.”

Fortunately, work plan funding received earlier this summer put the project back on the calendar for August.

“This is a much-needed repair at the south end gate bay,” Connell said.

As it stands now, Bayou Sorrel will be closed for 90 days from August 15 to November 15 for dewatering operations at the south end gate bay, with repairs to the gate conducted by the Corps’ hired labor unit.

“It’ll involve painting, metal replacement, checking welds, and doing repairs,” Connell said. “And when this is done, the gate will be good for another 25 or 30 years.”

Connell said the New Orleans District is quite busy with maintenance and repair work at projects across the state, which is both a blessing and a challenge.

“We would like to have consolidation of the units to do more of the work in less time,” Connell said. “But because our units are spread so thin, we’re not in a position to do that during these dewaterings. The lack of sufficient hired labor forces is going to result in longer delays.”