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Empress Scrapes Bottom on Lock

by Elaine Williams
Lewiston Tribune, October 24, 2003

Barge Traffic Stalls

Cruise Ship Gets Stuck In Ice Harbor Dam Locks Barge traffic has stopped on the Snake River after the bottom of a cruise ship scraped part of a lock at Ice Harbor Dam near Pasco.

The Empress of the North was leaving the lock heading upstream toward Clarkston at the time of the accident, said Joel Perry, vice president of marketing for American West Steamboat Co. in Seattle.

The captain had been given permission from the lock master to proceed, but the bottom of the vessel scraped the top of the lock gate at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The boat was moving only about one or two mph at the time, and no one was injured, Perry said.

The corps couldn't predict Thursday when the lock might open. It has to be emptied for an inspection and investigation into the cause of the accident, said Gina Schwetz, a spokeswoman for the corps.

Ice Harbor is the most western of four dams on the Snake River between the Tri-Cities and Lewiston.

The uncertainty had shippers scrambling trying to figure out contingency plans.

Arvid Lyons, the general manager of Lewis-Clark Terminal, said he has heard a number of export sales for wheat and barley had been scheduled for the coming weeks.

The grain exporters have acquired is similar to a savings account, Lyons said. "If they can't get their hands on their money or their grain, then they have to start making arrangements to pull it out of other areas and that doesn't help them at all when they have to buy back up bushels and sit on bushels that are trapped behind problems at the dams.''

At the Port of Lewiston, employees were concerned about a barge stranded on the west side of Ice Harbor Dam. It was heading to Lewiston to pick up 50 containers for a trip to Portland, said Carrie Kelly, traffic controller for the Port of Lewiston.

The Port of Lewiston has a barge available it can load here to save time, Kelly said, but that change might not be enough to have the containers in Portland on time, depending on the length of the closure.

The 190 passengers on Empress of the North were removed from the boat and taken to hotels in the Tri-Cities where they stayed Wednesday, Perry said.

On Thursday, they were bused back to Portland and flown home at the expense of American West Steamboat Co., Perry said.

The passengers will have a choice of taking a different cruise or receiving a refund, Perry said.

The 84 crew members are staying with the Empress of the North, Perry said.

The extent of the damage to Empress of the North is still being determined. The boat wasn't leaking or taking on water, but the Coast Guard is requiring its fuel tanks be emptied for an internal inspection that will take place in the Portland area, Perry said.

The boat had two dents 5 to 6 inches deep, Schwetz said. One was 30 feet long and the other was 22 to 24 feet long, Schwetz said.

The boat was lowered in the lock Thursday and towed backwards with tugboats to the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers to turn around.

Perry said American Steamboat West hopes Empress of the North will be in service Monday, the date its next cruise is supposed to start.

Empress of the North is the largest passenger vessel on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Introduced this year
Introduced this year, it has navigated the entire Snake and Columbia river system including the locks successfully four times, Perry said.

Related Sites:
American West Steamboat Company Their Ships are In - 2/3 down the page is:

A shallow launch area has posed some environmental problems for the company. In preparation for the stern-wheeler launch, for example, Nichols ran afoul of federal, state and local environmental regulations and was fined nearly $100,000. It's now working with the agencies on mitigation and prevention of future problems.

Elaine Williams
Empress Scrapes Bottom on Lock; Barge Traffic Stalls
Lewiston Tribune, October 24, 2003

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