Locks and Dams

Operators Preparing For Scheduled Closures At Lindy C. Boggs, Old River Locks

The New Orleans and Vicksburg Engineer Districts have a pair of lock closures scheduled for this summer and fall that will temporarily disrupt navigation on both the Red and Ouachita rivers.

The first and longest closure will occur at Old River Lock, which is set to close this summer.

“Old River will be totally closed to navigation for the entire dewatering, and no traffic will be able to pass,” said Ricky Boyett, public affairs chief for the New Orleans District. “The closure is scheduled to start on 15 August 2022 and end on 13 November 2022.”

Old River Lock—located just upriver of the Red River Landing and across the river from Angola, La.—was completed in December 1962 and opened to navigation on March 15, 1963. The lock is one of the structures that make up the Old River Control Complex, which also includes the Low Sill Control Structure, the Auxiliary Structure and the Overbank Structure. The adjacent Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station was completed in 1990.

In short, the complex is designed to prevent the Mississippi River from changing course to the much steeper Atchafalaya River and abandoning its current course. At present, 30 percent of the Mississippi River’s flow is diverted to the Atchafalaya, which also receives the total inflow of both the Red and Ouachita rivers.

Like many locks across the system, Old River is showing its age and is in need of attention.

“Old River Lock will be fully dewatered to inspect the entire lock chamber, repair leaking lock chamber expansion joints, replace the miter gates on the Mississippi River end, refurbish/replace miter gate operating components and lock chamber emergency ladders, and address any unforeseen minor maintenance issues,” Boyett said.

“The last time Old River Lock was fully dewatered was in 1978, 44 years ago,” he added. “In 2010, Old River was partially dewatered (canal end gate recess only) to replace the canal-end miter gate.”

The New Orleans District is coordinating the closure with the Vicksburg District and stakeholders on the Red River Waterway, who use Old River to move cargoes like coal and petcoke to a Cleco power plant, raw materials like steel coil to the Caddo-Bossier area, fuel for the Central Louisiana Regional Port, and aggregates. Without access to Old River Lock, operators will have to either stockpile product or go the long way around.

“That’s our access to the Mississippi,” said Rich Brontoli, executive director of the Red River Valley Association. “Now, people could go all the way down to Morgan City on the Atchafalaya, but that adds to the trip.”

In addition to the closure at Old River, Vicksburg District has funding to do maintenance on Lindy C. Boggs Lock, the first lock on the Red River nearest the Mississippi River. The Vicksburg District is planning a 60-day closure for Lock 1 on the Red River, beginning the same day as the Old River closure.

“They’re talking about opening up for two weeks after the first four weeks, then closing again, if people are going to come up the Atchafalaya for those two weeks,” Brontoli said. “I’ve been trying to get industry to look at how they’re going to move product when Old River is closed. Will they go to rail or barge somewhere and truck it in or go down the Atchafalaya?”

Brontoli said the only stakeholders to answer that question definitively so far are the representatives of Cleco, which said they plan to use the Atchafalaya and Lock 1 when it opens for those two weeks.

Brontoli said one potential impact stakeholders and the Corps are working out has to do with grain movements down the Ouachita River, which go through Old River to the Mississippi. Discussions on how to minimize that are ongoing.

“As far as Red River is concerned, we will go within the 90 days that Old River closes,” Brontoli said. “We don’t want to do 30 days and then them do 90 days right after. For our access to the Mississippi, that would be five months. We just want to make sure we’re within their 90.”

Boyett said the various stakeholders and the New Orleans and Vicksburg districts have been working on this coordinated plan for two years.

“Per navigation industry’s request, the dewaterings were scheduled concurrently to minimize impacts to navigation,” Boyett said. “Delays to either [the Old River or Red River Lock 1] scheduled dewaterings will subsequently impact the other.”

Repair Crews Busy

The impending work at Lock 1 on the Red River and at Old River are just two examples of work going on in Louisiana, which has an abundance of busy lock structures. Leland Bowman Lock on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway just suffered a gate motor failure late in April that caused a brief disruption to navigation.

“We have a spare motor to swap out, but these are large and cumbersome and require a crane and a team of machinists to perform the operation,” said Victor Landry, the Corps’ operations manager for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

There was a 32-hour closure for the Corps team to install the new gate motor.

“At the 32nd hour, we had 52 tows in the lock queue and quickly returned to average lock turn within 24 hours,” Landry said.

Work is also ongoing at Calcasieu Lock, on the western end of the state south of Lake Charles, where the Corps continues to perform guidewall repairs after several allisions. 

“The timber guidewalls have suffered major damage and were a safety hazard,” Landry said.

The daytime work is done Monday through Thursday, with traffic passing around the work.

“The delays have been minimal and have not caused considerable hardships to our maritime customers,” Landry said. “We also have dedicated funding to address these repairs, which we did not in the last two fiscal years.”