May 18, 2024
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By FRANK MCCORMACK

On October 2, the New Orleans Engineer District begins a closure of Algiers Lock for 60 days to repair damages caused by an accident on July 4.

A towing vessel was pushing a barge loaded with cargo into the chamber of the lock from the Mississippi River. The barge was bound for Gulf Intracoastal (GIWW) when the vessel struck the canal-end sector doors, piercing their skin on the south side and damaging the structural steel frame.

After inspecting the damages, Corps officials applied for an emergency funding of $6.4 Million.

Victor Landry is the operations project manager of GIWW’s structures in New Orleans District.

The Mississippi River is experiencing extremely low water levels and there are damages above the surface of the river. The Corps was able to operate Algiers with no restrictions. However, on the 10th and 11th, the team installed a temporary patch covering the puncture.

Landry called it “the Frankenstein patch”. The river has, of course, remained very low so there haven’t been any problems.

Landry says that with the approaching winter and rising river levels, it is imperative to continue with repairs.

Landry stated that the Corps would only dewater the gate bay at canal’s end. Landry says that while there may be some uncertainty about damage beneath the waterline, he is confident that his team will have the ability to fix the gate in the 60-day time frame.

The closure of Algiers Lock will present some challenges to the industry, as it is the main connector between New Orleans, Mississippi River and western GIWW.

Due to reversed head conditions, the Corps was forced to close Harvey Lock due to low water conditions. Harvey Lock is a smaller, but still important lock that connects the GIWW and Mississippi River. The river is so low that passing ships are able to draw water from the lock. This puts pressure outward on the locks river-side gate.

Harvey’s navigation was to be reopened by the Corps at Algiers, but weather forecasts don’t favor this.

Paul Dittman is the president of Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association. The trade group represents commercial operators along the GIWW. We’re unfortunately at the mercy Mother Nature.

Dittman stated that this will result in an increase of towing vessels using the Atchafalaya River to reach Old River Lock and an increase of vessels traveling the alternate route from Morgan City, La. to Port Allen Lock across the river to Baton Rouge. Bayou Sorrel Lock is currently undergoing construction of a guidewall, mooring dolphins and associated closures during the day. Landry stated that his team could pause the work, if needed.

He said, “It will go as required and we hope the contractor can continue.”

The scenario where Harvey Lock remains closed while a tropical storm approaches, requiring the evacuation of New Orleans regulated navigable area (RNA), is one that causes anxiety.

Landry stated that “we don’t wish for anyone to get trapped in that area during a storm.”

On September 14, representatives from the New Orleans District and the Coast Guard Sector New Orleans held a conference to discuss the best way to open Harvey Lock to allow for an RNA evacuation. To facilitate the emergency lockage at Harvey, the team devised a plan that would allow for one-way traffic on a bell near as much of east bank as is possible. Landry stated that his team will be conducting a trial run to determine if Harvey can safely operate under these conditions next week.

Landry stated that they hoped there would be no impact from storms, but since the event is starting in October it was prudent to put this plan into place.

Dittman stated that, although it is a dynamic situation, the preparation for Algiers’ closure has been transparent.

He said, “The Corps was very helpful in helping us minimize the impact of our actions.”

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