8 by 12 ft patch for cracks in McAlpine Lock Gate

The Corps of Engineers has completed repairs of a lock on the Ohio River and reopened the river after a 10-day shutdown--four days earlier than scheduled.
The Corps said the McAlpine Lock at Louisville was reopened at 4:15 p.m. on Aug. 19. The Corps had envisioned allowing traffic to move again in the morning of Aug. 23. Nine waiting tows headed north and seven southbound passed through the lock when work was completed. The line of tows had cleared the lock by 7 a.m. on Aug. 20, the Corps' Louisville District reported.

The closure of the river was caused by cracks in one of the lock's miter gates, detected by inspections done by divers. The Corps said the gate could have failed if it had not been fixed. Cost of the repairs was "$1 million plus," the Corps says.

Repairs were accelerated thanks in part to around-the-clock work by more than 100 Corps divers and other personnel from its Louisville, Nashville, Huntington, W.Va., and Pittsburgh Districts.

"We're ecstatic about the way the repairs went," says Carol Baternik, a Louisville District spokesperson says. "The divers and the welders...worked very, very long hours to ensure that the repair was completed efficiently but yet safely." There were no injuries, Baternik says.

Another reason work could be done ahead of schedule was that divers had been able to identify the dimensions and the location of the cracking, says Baternik. That enabled the Corps to have two, half-ton steel repair plates fabricated in advance, allowing work to be done on both sides of the gate at the same time, she adds. The two-inch-thick plates were about 8 ft. by 12 ft.

Empty chamber after
lock was closed for repairs

A full shutdown of the river at Louisville was required because there was only one lock--1,200 ft. long and 100 ft. wide--at that location. A second lock, 1,200 ft by 600 ft. , is under construction, and scheduled to be completed in 2008 "contingent upon funding of course," says Baternik.

One area shipper is happy about the project's outcome. Debbie Shobe, a spokesperson with LG&E Energy, Louisville, says that before the river shutdown, "We made provisions to stockpile additional coal with our barge line. Any time there's a project of this magnitude we try to plan in advance and the Corps gave us plenty of time." She adds, "The fact that it opened early was of benefit to everyone."

In a late July meeting with reporters, the Army's Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, noted the serious economic impact of an Ohio River closure, saying that the electric power grid in the Northeast could be affected "because all the coal-fired powerplants in that valley depend on the steady flow of coal, a flow that cannot be met by rail or truck." Strock cited the McAlpine situation as a worrisome sign of the condition of the waterway infrastructure that the Corps operates and maintains.

(Photos courtesy of Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District)