Locks and Dams

Users Board Gets Lock And Dam Updates

Two days before the official inauguration of the Olmsted Locks and Dam Replacement Project on August 30, members of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) met in Paducah, Ky., to hear presentations from Corps officials on the progress of the other lock and dam projects supported by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF). The meeting date had been changed after the Olmsted opening ceremony date was moved to accommodate elected officials who wanted to attend.

The IWUB is chaired by Marty Hettel, vice president for government affairs at American Commercial Barge Line.

The board welcomed a new executive director, Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations at Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C., who said he was “working hard to get caught up” on inland waterways issues. Also attending was R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army-civil works, who told board members, “I know I’m known as a flood control guy, but I’m also a navigation guy who wants to get projects built.” Before his appointment, James served for 36 years as a member of the Mississippi River Commission.

Also making opening remarks was a designated federal observer at IWUB, Lauren Brand, the Maritime Administration’s associate administrator for Intermodal System Development. Brand said, “Two years ago, MarAd promised an increased commitment to the inland waterways.” She cited the recent opening of a new MarAd office in Paducah—its second on the inland waterways after one in St. Louis—and noted its support of the ongoing mapping of all ports via a geographic information system (GIS), which she said she wanted to present at a future IWUB meeting.

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First to present was Rick Granados, a critical mission manager from the Corps of Engineers, who spoke on the current status of FY2018 funding for waterways projects. Total increases for navigation in the 2018 Omnibus Act over the President’s budget request totaled $975.417 million, out of which the IWTF contribution came to $112 million. Navigation construction got a $337.13 million increase, while navigation operations and maintenance (O&M) got an additional $24.28 million. Donor and energy transfer ports got an increase of $40 million.

The Corps’ FY2018 Work Plan is dedicating $76.5 million to Chickamauga Lock and Dam, $39.5 million to Kentucky Lock and Dam, $98 million to the Lower Mon Project, and $10 million to major rehabilitation at LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois River.

To be included in the president’s budget request, projects must meet a cost-benefit ratio of at least 2.5 set by the Office of Management and Budget.

Joe Aldridge, the IWTF account manager at Corps headquarters, reported on the financial status of the IWTF, which as of July 31 had a balance of $145.41 million versus $109.70 million on the same date in 2017—an increase of 32.55 percent. Hettel stated for the record that the IWUB believes the Corps should be using more of the IWTF’s funds for ongoing projects.

Aldridge told board members that the Olmsted project needed no more funding authority from Congress; the Corps had the approximately $98 million total project cost balance it needed to finish remaining work, barring unforeseen circumstances (plus about $17 million from the IWTF that it may not need).

Corps project manager Franchelle Craft delivered a report on the Colorado River Locks and Brazos Floodgates, where a number of options and design alternatives are currently being considered to increase benefits and reduce costs. Craft promised to get back to board members with estimated project costs of several options.  The Colorado Locks is near the end of its “3-by-3-by-3” study (so called because it must take no longer than three years, cost no more than $3 million and have no more than three concurrent levels of review), but might need an exemption to extend two months beyond the three years to complete; the new project study completion date is September 2019, Craft said.

IWUB vice chairman Matt Woodruff, director of government affairs at Kirby Corporation, remarked that the Corps was considering closing the Brazos River at the same time that it was closing the Calcasieu Lock and also considering closures to the Old River Lock. “Simultaneously working on these three projects in the same area will have significant impacts in barge traffic,” he said. He mentioned a website that the Corps had promised to set up to post notices of work on projects in a timely manner, and several board members agreed that the current site was cumbersome and hard to use. Hettel said that by his calculations, the costs to shippers to date from Calcasieu closures alone were about $50 million and could reach as high as $300 million. At times, as many as 80 tows at a time have had to wait at Calcasieu until the weekend, although Corps officials said that the average now is down to 30 tows.

Tom Heinold, deputy chief of the operations for the Rock Island Engineer District, gave a presentation on scheduling of repair work being done on LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois River, work for which it is 12 years overdue (the report was finished in 2005). He said the chances of unscheduled closures at LaGrange were rapidly rising but answered” yes” when Hettel asked him if he was confident that he would get the necessary O&M funding. Heinold also said that if Congress appropriates money for physical work at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, the Corps would coordinate any possible closures with other work nearby to minimize impacts to barge traffic.