Barge Traffic on Hold as
by Tracci Dial
LEWISTON - The Corps of Engineers is replacing the downstream navigation lock gates at The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams between now and March.
The gates range in size from 350 to 1,000 tons, and will require 12 to 14 weeks to install and test. Locally, that stops barges from moving upriver during the busiest time of the year for the Port of Lewiston.
"It's a busy time of year, there's probably at least four grain barges per week and then a couple container barges per week this time of year," said Lewiston's Port manager David Doeringsfeld. "Normally this time of the year there's quite a bit of peas and lentils and grain that are moving through. Agricultural products as well as timber products from Clearwater Paper that would normally be going through the river this time of year."
So those commodities have to find a new means of traveling.
"Due to the closure we've been working over the last year with the railroad to be able to pre-position containers up here to be able to provide containers on rail service during this time period," said Doeringsfeld. "However, even with pre-positioned containers up here, that'll probably be only maybe a third of the normal volume we'd have during that time period."
This kind of stoppage has never happened before. A lot of the area's dams have been around for 50 years and the useful life of the gates are nearing their end. Doeringsfeld said there's been a lot of planning in the past year to make sure this extended lock closure goes smoothly.
"We'd like to compliment the steam ship lines that provided containers up here, as well as the local short line railroad, the Great Northwest Railroad, who worked with the Class A railroad to provide customers rail service out of the port," said Doeringsfeld. "This hasn't happened out of the port for container on rail for five or six years, if not longer. So I think going back and looking at this opportunity, maybe the closures provided the catalyst to be able to look at more opportunities for container on rail."
Doeringsfeld said it opens the door for longer term opportunities to utilize the rail service for container transport to places like the Puget Sound. The gate replacement projects should be completed by March 18th.
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