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The Future of Navigation?

The Upper Mississippi is closed for the season, but UMWA members will soon begin watching the Corps of Engineers weekly measurements of ice on Lake Pepin to get some idea of when the 2017 navigation season will open. The COE usually starts the measurements in mid-February.

But there is plenty to watch elsewhere on the inland waterways, both good and bad. For example, the New Cumberland Locks and Dam on the Ohio was forced to operate at reduced capacity with a helper boat opening and closing gates after a hydraulic failure forced a week-long closure in December.

Although it is one of the ‘newer’ locks in the country (opened in 1959), it is need of major rehabilitation. Its auxiliary lock is closed permanently. On Sunday January 14, there were 14 up- and down-bound vessels in the lock que with an average transit time of 64 minutes.

But also on the Ohio River, the US Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers is testing what Coast Guard public affairs calls, “the future of navigation.”

The Ohio River Enhanced Marine Safety Information (e-MSI) test bed is placed at Louisville, Kentucky, because of its position on the Ohio River.

The COE’s Research and Development Center is working with the Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems and Coast Guard Research and Development Center on the system which uses the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to send messages to tows giving safety and other information about the Ohio River locks in the area.

The graphically presented information includes weather, bridge clearance, hazardous cargoes on the river, safety and security zones, the status of the locks and also Aids to Navigation.

The Coast Guard says the test area is helping show what equipment and infrastructure will be needed to modernize the country’s inland waterways.

A 25-foot response boat, also part of the project, patrols the river.