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Warrior-Tombigbee Stakeholders Celebrate Demopolis Reopening At Annual Meeting

The 74th annual meeting of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association (WTWA) may go down as one of the most celebratory, thanks to the May 16 reopening of Demopolis Lock in rural, west central Alabama. Demopolis Lock reopened four months to the day after the lock experienced an upper miter sill failure and roughly two weeks ahead of the original May 30 estimated repair completion date.

Addressing the crowd gathered at the Perdido Beach Resort May 16, Nelson Sanchez, operations division chief of the Mobile Engineer District, began by recognizing each group and organization involved in the innovative repair job, which involved several cement pours “in the wet” and a redesign of the sill itself. Sanchez didn’t just ask his Mobile District team to stand and be recognized. He also singled out R&D Maintenance, the district’s maintenance contractor; Brennan; Cemex and Ready Mix USA, the cement suppliers; McKinney, which handled heavy lift duties; the Army’s Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), which assisted in repair design; and Parker Towing, which helped safely close the lower miter gates against the river’s flow just days after the miter sill failure.

“Without them all working together, we would have never made today as an opening,” Sanchez said.

Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association President Wynne Fuller presented the Corps team involved in the lock repair project a certificate of excellence “for their remarkable efforts following the structural failure at the 70-year-old Demopolis Lock, exemplifying the high standards of service to their nation.” Fuller also offered certificates to R&D Maintenance Services, Parker Towing Company and Woody Collins, mayor of Demopolis.

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Beyond celebrating the lock reopening, waterway stakeholders heard reports on tonnage trends, the dredging outlook and planned maintenance for both the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway (BTW), which extends up to near Birmingham, Ala., and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom), which connects to the Tennessee River near where Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee come together.

Justin Murphree, project manager for the Tenn-Tom Waterway, said he expects to conduct about $3.5 million in regular maintenance dredging this summer, along with $2 million in dredging to benefit a mooring facility and small channels and $1.74 million in dredging for boat ramps along the waterway. A major maintenance item on the horizon for the waterway will be the replacement of a spillway gate at Stennis Lock and Dam. Expected delivery of that component is August of this year.

In addition, Murphree and his team are planning 30-day maintenance closures this year at Stennis Lock (September 3–October 3) and at Aberdeen Lock (September 4–October 4). Whitten Lock is scheduled for a closure in 2025, with both Cochran and Wilkins locks seeing maintenance closures in 2026.

In closing his presentation, Murphree joked that the BWT team got to use the Tenn-Tom’s new crane barge before Murphree and his team had a chance to use it on his waterway.

“I don’t know if anyone’s ever bought a new car, and then for the first four months your brother drove it, but that’s how we feel,” Murphree said, pausing for effect. “I’m just kidding.”

Taking the stage, Anthony Perkins, project manager for the BWT, thanked Murphree for lending his crane to the Demopolis repair, then overviewed upcoming work on his waterway. Dredging on the waterway will take place on both the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway and the Alabama River this year. While some component repair and replacement work will occur at the waterway’s locks, including valve replacements at Holt Lock near Tuscaloosa, no extended closures are planned on the waterway for some time.

Attendees also heard from representatives of Coast Guard Sector Mobile; Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey; and John Driscoll, director and CEO of the Alabama Port Authority. Alabama State Sen. Greg Albritton addressed the group, as did former congressman Bradley Byrne, who now serves as president of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce. Attendees also learned about waterway development grant opportunities during a pair of sessions. Trevor Popkin, chief of the Mobile District’s regulatory division, discussed the Corps’ regulatory program, while Jason Beaman, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service’s Mobile-Pensacola office, overviewed forecasts for the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season.

Finally, Ted Clem, senior project manager for the Alabama Department of Commerce, closed out the conference with a look at the role Alabama’s waterways play in the state’s economic development.