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Economic and dam related articles

Columbia Lock Overhaul
Could Stall Fuel Supplies

by Staff
Blue Mountain Eagle, December 9, 2010

Work will idle river barges for 14 weeks, with possible impacts in Eastern Oregon

(Brent Wojahn) A crane this week moves into position a pipe that will be used to help drain the lock at The Dalles Dam in preparation for a 14-week shutdown that will affect it, another dam on the Columbia and one on the Snake. The $45.1 million maintenance project begins Friday. SALEM - State officials are urging Eastern Oregon gas and diesel consumers not to panic over the possibility of fuel supply disruptions due to navigation lock closures on the Columbia River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Portland and Walla Walla districts will shut down The Dalles, John Day and Lower Monumental dams for 14 weeks, from Dec. 10, to March 18. The closure will allow the Corps replace the downstream navigation lock gates.

Under normal conditions, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels, and biofuels are transported by barge from petroleum distribution terminals at the Port of Portland to Pasco, Wash. - one of three main sources of fuel for Eastern Oregon communities. Fuel also comes by rail and truck from Portland and Boise, Idaho.

There will be no waterborne transportation on the Columbia/Snake navigation system during the lock work.

Corps and state officials said fuel distributors have been working on alternative plans to ensure adequate supplies of fuel to rural communities.

"Petroleum companies are evaluating all fuel supply points and distribution options throughout the region to ensure adequate supply and timely fuel deliveries to Eastern Oregon and Washington communities throughout the duration of the outage," says Deanna Henry, Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) Emergency Preparedness Manager.

However, she warned that there could be "mild supply disruptions."

Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) said he's been monitoring the situation, and he doubts that there will be shortages in the Eastern counties.

He said a lot of the region gets much of its fuel from Boise, and major distributors there have been lining up extra trucks to transport more product during the lock project.

However, he said, there may be price hikes due to higher transportation costs. That will depend on the pricing of the fuel in Portland and Boise, he said.

"The industry is preparing for this, with more trucks moving in to provide the means to transport the fuel," Bentz said. "So will we have fuel? Yes. But price might become an issue."

Bentz said there's really no good time to shut down the locks, as a summertime closure would have repercussions for agricultural operations.

"No matter what time of year you do it, there's going to be a need for fuel," he said. "And we need to have the locks fixed."

He said the lock replacement promises future economic benefits from a river that "is hugely underutilized."

Henry said homeowners and businesses can conserve heating fuel by following these tips:

Motorists are urged not to "top off" their gas tanks or stockpile gasoline. They also can save money and conserve fuel by obeying speed limits, using cruise control and combining errands into fewer trips.

Columbia Lock Overhaul Could Stall Fuel Supplies
Blue Mountain Eagle, December 9, 2010

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