Locks and Dams

Meldahl Auxiliary Lock Reopened In Time For Main Chamber Closure

While issues with the main chamber at Meldahl Locks and Dam have led to it being closed indefinitely, the auxiliary chamber opened earlier than expected to help ease congestion.

The auxiliary chamber at the lock, Ohio River Mile 436.2, was dewatered this summer to inspect it and complete repairs prior to a scheduled closure of the main chamber for five months in 2025. While some cracking in the auxiliary chamber’s miter gate was expected, crews found more cracking than anticipated, along with steel plates that needed to be replaced. There was not originally enough time in the schedule for the Regional Repair Fleet to complete the repairs in July, so the Corps said in September that it would be closed into 2024. Although it was rewatered, the plan was to use the auxiliary chamber only for locking debris during high water or ice in the winter or on an emergency basis.

However, on November 20, a dive inspection of the main chamber found issues with the miter gate and underlying concrete, causing that chamber to  be dewatered, according to the Huntington Engineer District.

“They saw they were having a potential problem in the main chamber so they sped up the repairs on the auxiliary chamber so they could get it functioning,” said Brian Maka, chief of public affairs for the Huntington district.

Extra manpower was brought in, with both the heavy and light Regional Repair Fleet tasked with the job of getting the auxiliary chamber back open in time for the main chamber closure. Crews even worked over the Thanksgiving holiday to make sure the work was done in time, Maka said.

The effort was successful, and at no time were both chambers closed at once, he said.

As of December 11, about six tows were waiting to lock through on average. The American Currents e-newsletter from American Commercial Barge Line estimated the average delay at the lock to be 22 hours.

Maka said that while it takes about 45 minutes for a tow to lock through the main chamber, it takes about 2-1/2 hours with the auxiliary chamber since the tow has to “double lock,” breaking the tow in half to transit the lock and then reassembling it on the other side.

A bulkhead was in place, and dewatering of the main chamber was expected to be complete by the December 16-17 weekend so that an inspection crew could get a close look at the damage quickly thereafter. Once the damage is assessed, the Corps will determine a repair solution and will be able to announce the anticipated length of the chamber closure.

Mariners are urged to contact the lockmaster via Marine Channel 13 for more information and coordination for lockage.