Locks and Dams

Willow Island Lock Work Nears Completion

A major hydraulic system replacement at Willow Island Locks and Dam, Ohio River Mile 161.7, is expected to be complete within days, putting an end to sometimes lengthy delays.

The $6.02 million project to replace the hydraulics at both the auxiliary and main lock chambers began March 11 with the closing of the auxiliary chamber. That reopened immediately before the closing of the main chamber April 15. The main lock chamber is expected to reopen no later than May 16, said Jason Casto, who is both the lockmaster and project manager for Willow Island Locks and Dam.

The original hydraulic system was put into place when the locks and dam were commissioned in 1971, Casto said. They included miles of piping, which had begun to degrade, risking the possibility of environmental contamination from hydraulic fluid leaks, he said.

As part of the project, prime contractor SAF Inc. replaced the piping with six hydraulic units, each of which contains two electric motors driving two hydraulic pumps. The units control the lock chambers’ miter gates and culvert valves. Because two hydraulic units are placed on the land wall, two on the middle wall and two on the river wall, less piping is required, Casto said. The new units require 1,800 gallons of hydraulic fluid. More than 7,000 gallons of hydraulic fluid was removed from the old system.

The new system is designed to be reliable and efficient, Casto said. Plans began in 2019 to replace the hydraulic systems but were delayed because of shipping and manufacturing delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There were a lot of parts and pieces that had to be made,” Casto said.

The new hydraulic units were installed at Willow Island’s 600-foot auxiliary chamber first, then tested to make sure they worked well before the Corps of Engineers shut down the 1,200-foot main chamber. Although unavoidable, the main chamber closure has resulted in major delays at the lock, with up to 30 vessels in a queue waiting as much as 87 hours at one point, Casto said. Those delays have now decreased significantly, however, he said, adding that Marathon Petroleum Company provided a helper boat that has been of great assistance.