Locks and Dams

Major Delays Expected With Upper Ohio Lock Closures

The Corps of Engineers-Pittsburgh District will begin the first of two major lock closures this week that are expected to cause major delays on the Upper Ohio River for the next two months.

Emsworth Locks

The Pittsburgh District’s repair fleet will be performing maintenance work on the miter gates of the 600-foot main lock chamber at Emsworth Locks and Dam at Ohio River Mile 6.2.

The lock will be closed from 6 a.m. February 22 through 11:50 p.m. April 15. The 360-foot auxiliary chamber will remain open to navigation.

Dashields Locks

At Dashields Locks and Dam, Ohio River Mile 13.3, the district will perform work on the miter gates of the main, 600-foot chamber requiring a month-long closure. There will also be closures of the auxiliary, 360-foot chamber, and four periods when both chambers will be closed.

Specifically, the main chamber will be closed from 6 a.m. March 7 through 12 p.m. April 7. The auxiliary chamber will be closed from 12 p.m. March 4 through 6 a.m. March 7, and again from 12 p.m. April 7 through 12 p.m. April 18.

Both chambers at Dashields will be closed four periods of eight hours or less to allow the repair fleet to remove and reset the miter gates. These closures will occur between March 7 and April 7.

Procedures For Both Locks

At both locks, the Corps will institute the following lockage procedures, which have been developed in cooperation with the Waterway Association of Pittsburgh:

Boat locking order will be determined by arrival time at the lock, and all pilots should radio the lockmaster at normal arrival points. Red-flag barges must be reported by the pilot during this radio call. All tows must be ready to lock when added to the tier sheet. No adding or swapping of barges will be allowed once the tow’s lock turn has been established. No crew changes, taking on stores, etc. will be permitted during the closure; these activities will need to be arranged at landings or other approved locations and must not impede the lockage process.

Because of approach conditions (out drafts and short river guard walls), it is recommended that users limit their tow size to no more than a triple lockage. Due to the location of the tow haulage equipment and the length of the upper and lower middle walls, tow configurations of less than 50 feet in width will require self-help. Without a self-help program by navigation interests, the lock can only handle up to a triple lockage with its tow haulage equipment. Under normal river conditions, the lockmaster can allow a towboat to lock through with a maximum of five cuts per lockage string. No building, staging, or reassembly of tows will be allowed on the lower mooring cell of the upper pool for the last tow of an up bound tier. This will allow a better flow of traffic and reduce delay of downbound exchange entries, the district said.

To help eliminate some of the waiting time for towboats, an arriving tow can designate to be broken up into a maximum of three separate lockage strings. Each lockage string will then be locked in accordance with the procedure outlined above. The pilot of the primary vessel will have to notify the lock of the intent to break up into smaller lockage strings and must provide the lockmaster with the names and the helper boat(s) designated to handle the other lockage strings not later than six hours before their lockage turn. If the primary vessel is broken into three lockage strings and only has one helper boat, the primary vessel will lock the middle string of the tier. If the designated helper boat(s) are not available when called by the lock, they will lose their turn and go to the end of the waiting line.

During the closure of the primary lock chamber, tows should move to the closest mooring cell for staging prior to their lockage turn, rather than waiting at landings. It will be necessary for tows, under normal river conditions, to follow one another on the river guard wall when a series of lockages are being made in one direction. Each tow in the series should be aware of the tow that they follow and be on the river guard wall as soon as that tow enters the lock chamber. While this practice will speed up the lockage process, it is imperative that tows exercise extreme caution when encountering out draft or backlash conditions, the district said.

Under the self-help program, the lockmaster will designate the pull boats as tows arrive for position. The second and third towboats in the first series of lockages in the opposite direction will be the designated pull boats. It will be necessary for all towboats to monitor their radios 24 hours a day.

In addition, the Corps listed other specific procedures to facilitate lockage operations that have been developed in cooperation with the towing industry, including:

• All excess rigging will be removed prior to entering the lock chamber. Remaining rigging should be ready to be knocked loose after the cut is secured in the lock chamber.

• All upbound lockages will require two locking lines, one on the head and one stern and must be available on each cut. All downbound lockages will require two locking lines, one head and one stern. Each line must be at least 75 feet long and 1-1/2 inches in diameter. To minimize locking time, all lines will stay with each cut. Lines will not be permitted to be carried from one cut to another.

• Three deckhands are required during multiple lockages.

• All multiple-cut tows will be made up in designated staging areas, clear of the lock gates, so as not to interfere with lockage operations.

• The lock filling system may cause turbulence and surging of water while filling the auxiliary chamber. Deckhands need to be extra vigilant in tending lines to avoid an accident which could close the locks totally.

Additional Information

Towboats are cautioned to use minimal power when operating over the lower sill to avoid forcing debris onto the miter sill. This debris could prevent the miter gates from closing and require stoppage of navigation until the material is removed by dredging or diving operations. 

If critical industrial shipments are essential to sustain continued operation, the affected companies should immediately contact the Waterways Association of Pittsburgh at least 36 hours prior to the scheduled lockage. Only the designated cargo or barges will be given priority unless stated in the request that all barges in that tow be given priority. The association will review all requests for priority before submitting them to the Corps for consideration. If it becomes necessary to prioritize lockages through the auxiliary lock chamber, the Corps will make the final decision concerning lockage procedures as conditions and situations change.

In accordance with standard Corps policy, the lockmaster may also vary the locking procedure in an effort to equalize waiting times.

All towboats are to stay with their tows while waiting for lockages unless designated to assist other tows through the auxiliary lock chamber.

Information concerning lockages will be broadcast by radio on Channel 13 and any towboat not answering a call from the locks may be dropped to the end of the waiting list.