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Inland Waterways Users Board Gets Corps Project Updates

The 89th meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) took place in St. Charles, Mo., on November 29. It was supposed to be addressed by Maj. Gen Scott Spellmon, but he was testifying before Congress; instead, Tom Smith, chief of the regulatory and operations division of Corps of Engineers headquarters, spoke.

The IWUB members had been given a tour of LaGrange Lock and Dam on the Illinois Waterway the day before.

Janine Miller, senior adviser for rural infrastructure to the secretary of agriculture, who was on the LaGrange tour, presented first; her topic was “Why does agriculture care about barges?”

“Barges are vitally important for the competitiveness of our ag exports, especially soybeans,” said Miller. She noted that 11 percent of the nation’s corn exports and 5 percent of its soy exports go through LaGrange and said that the U.S.  Department of Agriculture “strongly supports” IWUB and its work. The USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service has been USDA’s “monitor” on IWUB since 1991. While agricultural products that move by waterway represent 18 percent of the total tons of ag products, she said, they are 37 percent of the ton-miles.

A recent USDA study shows that if demand for U.S. agriculture products could be increased by 10 percent, that would inject another $10 billion into the U.S. economy, she said.

USDA has just signed an agreement with Informa Economics IEG to develop 10- and 25-year forecasts to help guide ag investments in corn and soybeans. They will project three possible scenarios: a trend of infrastructure investments continuing as they have been, a “no-build” scenario, and a trend of “unconstrained” investment, i.e., in which infrastructure gets the funding it needs. The forecasts will initially look at the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers; the Pacific Northwest may be added later.

Corps Missions

Kareem El-Naggar, acting navigation business line manager at Corps headquarters, next presented on the civil works budget. “Navigation has a key role in all nine Corps [mission] priorities,” he said.

The Corps’ 2019 work plan was released the previous week, and the Corps is developing its FY2021 spending program. One of El-Naggar’s charts showed that the 2019 Omnibus Act increased total funds for navigation projects by $1.29 billion. In response to a question, El-Naggar said that funds to complete Olmsted Lock and Dam include money to decommission Ohio River Locks 52 and 53.

Joe Aldridge, program manager for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund at Corps Headquarters, said the current available balance of the fund stood at $33 million, after previously committed money under FY2018 projects was subtracted from total revenues of $180.2 million. He noted that the Corps is required by law to keep funds on the books to cover outstanding contracts.

Trust Fund receipts (which are estimated by the Department of the Treasury) have been higher than estimated for three years in a row, Aldridge said.

Stephen Durrett, regional business director for the Great Lakes and Ohio River Engineer Division, said that high water can change estimates; it is currently slowing work on Locks 52 and 53, “but it’s still getting done,” he said  He noted that four months of Olmsted work were lost in 2017 due to unexpected high water.

“If we lose construction time [on LaGrange], the contract may extend into 2020,” he said. Scheduling for LaGrange repairs is still being determined and Durrett said he would have that information by the next IWUB meeting.

Lock Updates

After a break, Dewey Rissler, Olmsted project manager from the Louisville Engineer District, said the bottom line of completion of Olmsted “hasn’t changed much since September.” The project is ahead of schedule, due to favorable weather and efficient funding. Floating lock walls have been installed, and 50 acres of the 200-acre work site have been restored. A catamaran barge that was used on the work was disassembled for transport.  In response to a question, Rissler said all building at Lock 53 will be demolished. 

He said a second backup wicket-lifter crane barge is being built. The barge is being built first (WJ, November 19); the crane award will be a separate contract. He said the decision was made to build a second wicket-lifer after it was realized that the wicket-lifter was a “single point of failure” for the entire system.

Rissler said the Lower Monongahela River project is currently on budget and discussed the award dates of the various phases. The project received all of the $89 million requested from Congress through FY2019. The Corps projects that the project can be completed for about $309 million with “reasonable contingencies.”

Adam Walker, Nashville Engineer District project manager for the Chickamauga Lock and Dam project, said the lock excavation is about 1-1/2 months behind schedule; its completion date was moved back from November 6 to January 4. The on-site concrete batch plant is doing batch testing. The project has spent about 40 percent of total estimated project costs, or about $240 million.

Don Getty, Nashville District project manager for the Kentucky Lock project, said that $543 million has been obligated so far, with $460 million spent. One shell had to be reset after it was found to have moved several inches after initial setting. Both northbound and southbound lockages now require triple  lockages for a 15-barge tow; a helper boat is on hand to assist.

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