Locks and Dams

Bearing Failure Causes Unplanned Closure At Cochran Lock

With the extended closure at Demopolis Lock on the Tombigbee River in Alabama ongoing, the Mobile Engineer District has announced a second, albeit much shorter, unplanned lock closure within its area of responsibility. The district sent out a navigation bulletin February 18 announcing that a bearing failed in an upper sector gear at Thad Cochran Lock, located near the midpoint of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) in the vicinity of Amory, Miss.

For the next three days following the announcement, Cochran Lock was restricted to daylight-only operations, with lockages occurring at 8 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. A full closure commenced Thursday, February 22.

“We locked a boat about 8:30 this morning,” Justin Murphree, operations project manager for the Tenn-Tom, said February 22. “That was our last one, and we don’t have a queue at the moment.”

Murphree said, with Demopolis Lock closed since January 16, he doesn’t expect much of a queue to build up at Cochran Lock during the closure there. Still, he said he understands the impact even a short closure on the Tenn-Tom could have on shippers and operators looking to take the long way up the Tenn-Tom and down the Mississippi River to get to the Gulf Coast.

“We’re dealing with something that’s been in place almost 40 years,” Murphree said. “We’re hoping we can get it done in three days, but we know we can be done in five.”

The Mobile District’s maintenance team exceeded even Murphree’s three-day goal. The district sent out a navigation bulletin the evening of Friday, February 23, announcing that repairs were complete and the lock reopened to navigation at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

Demopolis Update

Farther south, just below the confluence of the Black Warrior River and the Tombigbee River, work continues on Demopolis Lock, which suffered an upper miter sill failure on January 16. Debris removal in the lock chamber continues, although maintenance crews continue to deal with impacts from a high tailwater level.

According to the most recent waterway users call, the district is considering bringing in additional equipment to break up the larger pieces of concrete that fell into the chamber when the upper miter sill failed. In addition, contracts for the repair work are all in place, Corps officials said.

The Mobile District estimates Demopolis Lock will be closed for repairs through the middle of May. Demopolis Lock is one of two locks below the confluence of the Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers, which means the closure at Demopolis effectively blocks operators on both the Black Warrior-Tombigbee and Tenn-Tom waterways from the shortest route to Mobile, Ala. Users still wanting to move freight to the Gulf during the closure may go north on the Tenn-Tom, then take the Tennessee and Ohio rivers to the Mississippi, then enter the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in New Orleans. That route, though, adds as much as 1,600 miles to the trip.