Locks and Dams

High Water In Mid-South Closes Locks, Costing Industry

The barge industry is getting socked by closed locks and consequent delays on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Members of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) were briefed on the closures and delays in a conference call with Corps of Engineers officials on March 7.

According to Marty Hettel, chair of the IWUB, the J.T Meyer Locks and Dam on the Ohio River ceased locking on February 22 and resumed locking on March 5. When the lock reopened, it had 17 tows with 117 barges waiting. The estimated cost to the barge industry was $1.1 million.

Smithland Locks and Dam, also on the Ohio, ceased locking when the river stage tailwater at Smithland reached 49 feet on February 20. The estimated opening of Smithland was March 10, although Corps officials said this may only last through the end of the following week, as another rain event was forecast for March 8-9 in the middle and lower Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers that could very well put Smithland tailwater over 4 feet again.  The queue as of March 7 had 66 tows with 619 barges waiting to lock. The estimated cost to industry as of that date was $6 million.

On the Tennessee, River, Kentucky Lock and Dam ceased locking on February 20 and was also estimated to resume locking March 10, although that forecast was tentative for the same reason. Its current queue has 13 tows with 132 barges waiting to lock.  Estimated cost to industry was $1.7 million as of mid-day March 7.

The queue at Cheatham Lock and Dam on the Cumberland River, which ceased locking February 18, was three tows with 22 barges, at an estimated delay cost of $600,000.

The total cost of the delays was estimated at $9.4 million as of 11 a.m. March 7. 

Hettel said this estimated fixed cost is not the only financial burden to industry, as hundreds if not thousands of barges are not moving due to the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers coming to a standstill since February 20.