Algiers Lock To Close October 2 For Emergency Repairs

The New Orleans Engineer District will begin a 60-day closure at Algiers Lock on October 2 to repair damage incurred in a July 4 allision.

On Independence Day, a towing vessel was pushing a loaded barge into the lock chamber from the Mississippi River, bound for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), when it struck the lock’s canal-end sector gates, piercing the south-side sector gate’s skin and damaging its structural steel frame.

Corps officials surveyed the damage and, shortly thereafter, applied for emergency funding totaling $6.4 million.

“The funding came quick and easy, which was a relief,” said Victor Landry, operations project manager for the New Orleans District’s GIWW structures.

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With the Mississippi River experiencing extreme low water conditions and the damage above the water line, the Corps has been able to continue operating Algiers without restrictions, although the team did install a temporary patch over the puncture on August 10 and 11.

“I call it the Frankenstein patch,” Landry said. “The river, of course, has stayed very low, so we haven’t had any challenges.”

But with winter on the horizon, and higher river levels along with it, Landry said it’s imperative for his team to proceed with repairs.

The Corps will dewater only the canal-end gate bay, Landry said. While there are some unknowns associated with potential damage below the water line, Landry said he’s confident his team is well-equipped to repair the sector gate within that 60-day window.

Industry, though, will face some logistical challenges during the closure, since Algiers Lock is the primary connector between the Mississippi River in New Orleans and the western GIWW.

Harvey Lock Closed

The same low-water conditions that have allowed Algiers to remain open have forced the Corps to close Harvey Lock, a smaller lock connecting the GIWW to the Mississippi River, due to reverse head conditions. With the river so low, passing ships can draw water away from the lock, which puts outward pressure on the lock’s river-side gates.

The Corps put off the closure at Algiers in hopes that river conditions would improve enough for Harvey to reopen to navigation, but forecasts aren’t favorable for that to happen.

“But right now it looks like mother nature isn’t cooperating with us,” said Paul Dittman, president of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, a trade group representing commercial operators on the GIWW. “Unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of mother nature.”

That will mean an uptick in towing vessels taking the Atchafalaya River up to Old River Lock, Dittman said, and an increased number of vessels on the alternate route between Morgan City, La., and Port Allen Lock, across the river from Baton Rouge, La. There is ongoing guidewall and mooring dolphin construction at Bayou Sorrel Lock, along with associated daytime closures. Landry said his team would consider pausing that work if necessary.

“It’s going to be as needed, and we’re hoping the contractor will be able to continue,” he said.

One issue driving some anxiety and extra planning is the scenario in which Harvey Lock is still closed and a tropical system approaches the area, necessitating the evacuation of the New Orleans regulated navigation area (RNA).

“We certainly don’t want anyone to be trapped back there in the event of a storm,” Landry said.

Representatives from the New Orleans District, Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, GICA, the Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association and river pilots associations held a conference call September 14 to discuss how to execute emergency openings at Harvey Lock in order to facilitate an evacuation of the RNA. The team developed a plan to allow one-way ship traffic at a slow bell as near the east bank as possible, in order to facilitate emergency lockages at Harvey. Landry said his team is considering a test run next week to see if operating Harvey under those conditions would be safe.

“We’re hoping there are no storm impacts, but with this starting in October, we thought it prudent to have this plan in place,” Landry said.

Dittman said, though it’s an extremely dynamic situation, preparing for the closure at Algiers has been transparent and collaborative.

“The Corps has been very supportive to assist us to minimize impacts,” he said.