Tennessee River Valley Association Meeting Addresses Priorities
Participants in the two-day, virtual Tennessee River Valley Association (TRVA) meeting October 13-14 learned about progress on ongoing projects, the state of federal funding and carp eradication efforts, among other topics.
Executive Director Cline Jones kicked off the presentations by talking about key legislation TRVA is watching, including the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), where association members are looking for continued funding for the Kentucky and Chickamauga lock projects and continued investment in infrastructure.
“The system, for the most part, is New Deal,” Jones said. “We’ve got old locks and dams throughout the country.” Additionally, he said, the association continues to hope for an omnibus budget bill and not another continuing resolution.
“We need a return to regular order and spending bills,” Jones said.
In a brief business meeting, TRVA members voted for Rick Terry to continue as president and Glenn Hendon to continue as chairman of the board for another year.
The first day of the meeting included five presentations from the Corps of Engineers.
Lt. Col. Sonny Avichal, Nashville district commander, spoke about his priorities for the district, including its people, readiness, partnerships and revolutionizing business by making processes easier, faster and more efficient for the American public wherever possible.
Readiness and partnerships make it possible for the Corps to be available to assist wherever it is needed, he said, such as when the district recently deployed more than 20 employees to Louisiana to help with temporary roof replacements following hurricanes Laura and Delta.
Avichal noted that the Nashville district has 1,175 river miles, comprising 10.5 percent of the country’s inland waterways. It is home to 29 percent of the Ohio River basin and 14 navigation projects. In fiscal year 2020, there were more than 26,000 lockages through Nashville district locks. U.S. Commerce waterborne data from 2018 showed 23.8 million tons of cargo moving on the Cumberland River and 33.5 million tons on the Tennessee River. The district is also home to the regional light capacity fleet.
Avichal gave a brief navigation program overview, noting that the Corps’ work includes lock and dam maintenance and repair, channel maintenance, channel surveys and identification of channel obstructions, updating and maintaining navigation charts, issuing Notices to Navigation Interests, managing the lock operator training program, conducting annual inspections, supporting asset management and managing the district’s diving program.
“Again, all of these programs are aimed at keeping our locks operational, now and in the future,” he said.
Looking at cargoes moved, COVID-19 appears to have had a significant impact this year, with five projects showing a 10 percent or more reduction in tonnage from the three-year moving average. Reduction percentages were: Barkley, 23.3 percent reduction in cargo tonnage; Cheatham, 10.0 percent; Old Hickory, 42.5 percent; Nickajack, 13.8 percent; and Chickamauga, 13.8 percent.
Total lockages were down 5 percent more from the three-year moving average at the five locks. Reduction in lockage percentages were: Barkley, 13.3 percent; Cheatham, 8.1 percent; Old Hickory, 36.6 percent; Chickamauga, 9.3 percent; and Fort Loudon, 8.8 percent.
“There is a little less traffic on the water,” Avichal said. “We’re just going to kind of keep an eye on it.”
Once again, he said, he believes the coronavirus had an impact.
Lock Maintenance And Projects
Megan Simpson, chief of the maintenance section, talked about operation and maintenance activities on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.
In 2020, maintenance activities completed included emergency lift gate removal and inspection at Barkley Lock, the installation of an upstream closure system at Old Hickory and Pickwick locks, valve repairs at Chickamauga and Wilson locks, and replacement of a trash screen at Wilson Lock.
Upcoming maintenance activities on the Tennessee and Cumberland are:
• Fort Loudon Lower Valve Pin Replacement November 2-24, 2020. Intermittent closures.
• Nickajack Gate Painting December 7-17, 2020. Full closure.
• Chickamauga Valve Pin Replacement February 16–March 4, 2021. Full closure.
• Cheatham Stop Log Installation and Valve Repair April 12–June 10, 2021. Full closure with four temporary openings. (Largest planned project.)
• Wilson Main Gate Fender and Bulkhead Slot Repairs May 3–27, 2021. Intermittent closures.
• Pickwick Main Fender Replacement and Tow Haulage Repair June 17–24, 2021. Intermittent closures.
• Kentucky Boom Wall Armor and Cell Repair. July 6–August 5, 2021. Intermittent closures.
Adam Walker, project manager on the Chickamauga Lock Replacement Project, gave an update, noting that the total estimated cost at the October 2019 price level was $757 million and that $310.7 million had been expended through June 2020, with the project 41 percent complete. Continuing degradation of the existing lock makes replacement necessary. The earliest possible project completion date is November 2025, he said. The new lock could be operational by November 2023, assuming no construction delays.
The project was originally authorized in the 2003 Energy and Water Appropriations Act and reauthorized in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.
The project involves building a 110- by 600-foot replacement lock riverward of the existing 60-foot by 360-foot lock at the dam at Tennessee River Mile 471. The $244.6 million lock chamber construction contract is ongoing. It was awarded in September 2017 with contract completion set for July 1, 2023.
Don Getty, project manager of the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, also gave an update, reporting the Kentucky project is 43 percent complete with $525 million spent to date.
The project adds a 1,200-foot lock adjacent to the existing 600-foot lock.
The earliest completion date possible is in 2025. Efficient federal funding for fiscal year 2021 is $110.1 million. If efficient funding is not received, it could potentially push the completion date back as far as 2028 and cost an additional $33.8 million to complete the project, he calculated.
Project schedule impacts are being experienced due to complications regarding downstream cofferdam construction, Getty said, calling the delays due to high water “horrifically terrible” in 2018-19 but just “bad” in 2019-20.
“Truly, two wet years in a row have had a big impact on us,” he said.
Once the cofferdam is complete, additional work should not be impacted as much from high water because sheet pile cell work in general is not as sensitive to high water as the concrete work on the cofferdam has been, he said.
Getty focused on moving forward expeditiously with the project as when it is completed, the delays experienced at Kentucky Lock, currently averaging eight to 12 hours, “will essentially go down to zero.”
To conclude the conference’s first day, Craig Carrington, chief of the project planning branch, spoke about reinvesting in navigation infrastructure on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
There are challenges to the system with reduction in transportation of coal and petroleum products, for example, but perceived opportunities related to movement of shipping containers. Carrington talked about the benefit of a proposed study conducted with federal, state and other partners sharing the cost. It could look at current investment and analyze how to maximize the rivers’ economic potential in more depth, he said. The Corps has already met with Alabama officials about the need for a study earlier this year and plans to meet with Kentucky officials in October as well as reaching out again to Tennessee and talking with officials in Mississippi. A multi-state meeting to compare individual goals for the study could be in November with work starting as soon as January.
The second day of the TRVA conference began with a federal funding overview from Tracy Zea, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), and Deb Calhoun, senior vice president.
Zea said WCI’s No. 1 priority is WRDA and conforming the cost-sharing from Inland Waterways Trust Fund-financed construction projects to require 25 percent of the project cost from IWTF and the remaining 75 percent from general revenues, the same formula used for the majority of the nation’s coastal ports. That is especially necessary as the nation now has 69 lock chambers over the age of 80 and only one, at Olmsted, under 10 years old, so infrastructure maintenance and repair along the inland waterways is becoming increasingly important.
The House has passed WRDA, but the Senate has not yet done so, although legislation is out of committee. The Senate is expected to pass a final conference report after negotiations between the chambers. Both the Senate and House versions call for a 65 percent/35 percent IWTF cost-share split, although 17 senators and 78 House members requested the preferred 72/25 split. The House version of the bill also included a seven-year sunset, although each new start between FY 21 and FY 27 would remain at the 65/35 split until construction is complete.
He noted that the president’s budget request for IWTF projects is listed as $0 for the first time in the 2021 fiscal year. Zea said he anticipated success this year despite the political climate because of expected congressional appropriations.
WCI opposes additional tolling, lockage fees or other charges for the users of the inland waterways system. Additionally, WCI is also attempting to secure additional funding for the infrastructure of the inland navigation system in a comprehensive infrastructure bill.
Dennis Baxter, manager of biological and water resources and senior aquatic zoologist at the Tennessee Valley Authority, gave a brief report on Asian carp mitigation, noting the leading edge of the large carp school is in the Pickwick reservoir. Although one report indicated an Asian carp in the Chickamauga reservoir, hundreds of hours of electro-fishing and netting haven’t found any invasive carp species in that reservoir, he said.
States and federal agencies continue working together through the Mississippi Interstate Cooperative Resource Association (MICRA) as an umbrella association for fighting the spread of Asian carp, he said. National strategies include research to find out where the fish spawn and where they travel to help commercial fishermen find them as well as keeping an eye on the leading edge of major carp schooling so that the spread of the invasive species can be contained and controlled as much as possible as agencies also work to eliminate or at least reduce the carp population to an insignificant amount.
“If we’re going to stop this, we need public buy-in, plus congressional funding,” Baxter said.
More surveys to monitor the movement of Asian carp through locks and more deterrent behavioral systems will also be necessary, he said. Testing of the bio-acoustic fish fence (BAFF) at Barkley Lock continues, he said. If testing determines it is an effective deterrent, he said it would make sense to position more barriers at other downstream lock entrances as it appears the carp have only spawned successfully once in the Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley reservoirs, in 2015. More typically, they spawn in the river and then swim through a lock and into the reservoir.
TVA is preparing a fish barrier programmatic environmental assessment at 10 Tennessee River locks that should be complete early next year, Baxter said. One line of thought calls for placing barriers at three locks. Because of the interconnectivity of the systems and the existing barrier at Barkley Lock, one would need to be at Kentucky Lock, Baxter said. The two others would likely be at consecutive locks, most likely Wheeler and Wilson, barring any unforeseen difficulties.
“They don’t have to be 100 percent effective, but if you put them in combination with each other it also reduces the likelihood of them getting past the second barrier,” he said.
Other eradication efforts, including commercial fishing incentives, bow fishing tournaments, Asian carp roundups with removal at pinch points using multi-agency efforts, cooperative tagging and promoting the use of the carp as table fare and in various products also remains important, Baxter said. Crab and lobster fishermen also continue to be interested in using the carp as bait as long as they can be effectively transported for use.
Paul Griffin, executive director of the national not-for-profit organization Energy Fairness, spoke about best practices for consumers. The organization was founded in 2009 and is active in discussions that affect energy prices and reliability, such as the necessity of having a lock and dam system.
Craig Philip, research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Transportation Research (VECTOR), and Miguel Moravec from VECTOR talked about their work creating a case study on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in support of a Department of Homeland Security port resilience guide.
A full version of the guide is expected to be produced in summer 2021 that will include the case study. An initial stakeholder meeting September 29 looked at key assets in the region as well as potential disruptive events. The study also seeks to look at refined petroleum movements and to gain a better understanding of how commodity movements are changing.
Dr. Harry Stone of the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA), discussed the Plan for the Ohio River Basin 2020-2025, released September 28. The Corps’ Louisville district partnered with ORBA and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) for the study, which gathered and compiled data for 17 months to create a plan with six broad objectives and the strategic actions needed to meet them.
ORBA is forming working groups to address the objectives and looking for two members from each Corps district within the basin with one member from river transportation and one from a port within each district.