A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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September 2017 

Even 'new' needs maintenance

     One is “new,” the other is almost 40 years past its designed service life, but the tale of two locks on America’s Inland Waterway System illustrates the challenges facing the Corps of Engineers, the waterway industry and decision makers in Washington, D.C.  Thanks to some good fortune and fast work by the Corps, the recent closures of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam (L&D 26) on the Mississippi and Lock and Dam 52 on the Ohio lasted days rather than weeks.
     The point being driven home is that even the newer components of waterway infrastructure get heavy use and need aggressive maintenance to keep them functioning.  Locks and Dams 52 and 53 have been kept open during the three decades of stop and start funding and construction on the Olmsted Locks and Dam that will replace them, possibly next year.  L&D 26, the newest lock on the Mississippi, passed
its first vessels in 1990 shortly after work was started on the Olmsted project.

     Cracks in the main gate at L&D 26 forced its closure Aug. 30, and traffic was halted because the auxiliary chamber was closed for scheduled repairs.  Corps Spokesperson Amanda Kruse told The Telegraph News, “We had everything in place and got lucky, which was fine, and repaired it ahead of schedule.”

     In Ohio, gaps in the ancient wickets at L&D 52 forced a closure on Sept. 6 and although the Corps was able to get the structure back in service sooner than expected, the week-long closure had more than 30 tows waiting to transit.  Traffic resumed Sept. 14.
     Although the closures were not the only factor involved, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that grain movements on the Mississippi, Ohio and Arkansas Rivers the first week of September were down 34% from the previous week and 9% below average for the week.

     The system’s condition is having long-term impacts.  Archer Daniels Midland Executive Austin Ramsey, recently told The Iowa Farmer Today that shippers on the locked portion of the Mississippi River are making changes in their transportation plans.
     “We’re seeing a lack of confidence in the waterways infrastructure,” Ramsey says. “Shippers up north, instead of coming down through the lock and dam system, will load up on rail and then come down to here (St. Louis) where they can bypass that system. That’s not good for farmers, because it costs more to make that southbound trip on rail.”

(Above) Unpredictable closures and 'band-aid' maintenance caused by lack of funding are causing some shippers to lose confidence in the river system
75th Anniversary Cargill Shipyard

     UMWA members who have long memories and who know where to look, can still point out the location and the remains of launching ramps from the World War Two Cargill Shipyard on the Minnesota River in Savage.  This year marks the 75th  anniversary of the start of the first ship built at the yard.

     Despite some tough winters, spring flooding and other challenges, the 3,000 or so workers at the yard built 18 AOGs (Auxiliary Oiler Gasoline) for the Navy and four big towboats for the Army.  Some of the ships were in use into the 1970s.
     Vessels were launched sideways into the river from those ramps and were towed downriver for final fitting out.  All of it made possible by the 9-foot channel on the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.

     For interested history buffs, the website has a list of all the oilers built at Savage and their histories.  And knowledgeable employees can point out the location of the yard and what remains of the launching ramps.

From the Executive Director . . .

The Tale of Two Options

     In December 2016, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, a bill entitled “Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (the WIIN Act)”.  This 278 page behemoth with titles covering Water Resource Development, Water and Waste Act of 2016, Natural Resources and Other Matters included a specific section covering beneficial use of dredged material; Section 1122.
     In that section, the Secretary of the Army is ordered to establish a pilot program to carry out projects for the beneficial use of dredged material, including projects for the purposes of stabilizing stream systems, enhancing shorelines and creating aquatic ecosystem habitats.  As worded, projects appear to cover a wide spectrum that will produce economic or environmental benefits to the Nation.
     It further states that in carrying out the pilot program, the Secretary shall identify 10 projects for the beneficial use of dredged material in consultation with relevant State agencies.  The Secretary shall also establish regional teams to identify and assist in the in the implementation of projects, and shall appoint the Commander of the relevant division of the Corps to serve as the head of the team.
      According to, the WIIN Act authorizes nearly $10 billion in federal investment for not only water infrastructure improvements, but for community projects to provide safe drinking water, replacement of lead service lines and investments in water recycling and desalination.  Clearly, competition for the authorized $10 billion federal investment will be intense!
An Opportunity
     From the commercial navigation point of view, one of the most meaningful provisions of the WIIN Act is that projects carried out under Section 1122 “shall be carried out notwithstanding the definition of the term “Federal standard”; in other words, the least cost requirement as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations is waved for projects selected under this section.
     Given that waiver, the Corps’ St. Paul District appears to have an opportunity to secure locations outside of the District to accommodate the 11 million cubic yards of material the Corps estimates will be dredged from lower Pool 4 over the next 40 years.
     In comments filed with the St. Paul District in response the Lower Pool 4 Dredged Material Management Plan in July, UMWA stated that major shortcoming of the report is that it does not consider disposal sites or the need of dredged material beyond the Pool 4 area, such as the nagging shortage of sand off Southeast Florida. 
     To illustrate, an Insurance Journal publication reminded readers that the 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorizes the Corps of Engineers to study the potential of using foreign sand, such as from the Bahamas, “to widen shorelines and protect coast from hurricanes” such as the ones that hit the Big Bend of northeastern Florida a year earlier. 
     Also In its “Shrinking Shores” investigation, the Naples Daily News reported that the Miami area had exhausted their deposits of available offshore sand, leaving only sand that is too far offshore to retrieve or is nestled among protected reefs or other underwater marine features.  Without a doubt, other Corps of Engineers Districts have a need for material, no matter the source.
     However a ban, backed by the U.S. dredging industry, on spending federal dollars on beach projects that use foreign sand stands in the way, and coastal communities can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches.  Providing authority and funding for the Corps to barge excess U.S. domestic dredged material from Lower Pool 4, for example, to be used by Florida and gulf coast sites might be a fruitful alternative. 
     The Insurance Journal further stated that U.S. Rep. Louis Frankel (D-Boca Raton) who co-sponsored legislation to end the ban would authorize Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) to undertake a study of the economic and noneconomic costs, benefits and impacts of acquiring sediment from domestic and other sources for shoreline protection, hopefully in WRDA 2018.
     Returning our attention to the WIIN Act, the Secretary of the Army must submit a report to appropriate Congressional Committees no later than 2 years after date of enactment describing the projects selected.  With the first year of the initial 2-year report period coming up this December, it appears the Corps has two opportunities to obtain funding to find more-distant sites for its excess dredged material:  The in-place WIIN Act, or waiting for possible inclusion in the more distant and uncertain WRDA 2018 legislation.
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.
Other Items of Interest...

*   Don’t forget the UMWA annual meeting is September 21, at the Southview Country Club in West St. Paul.  The members meeting begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by the meeting of the Executive Committee and the banquet.

*   The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has extended the public comment period for the proposed repeal of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule to Sept. 27.  EPA says it will use the comments to help draft a new definition of what constitutes a federal waterbody or stream.

*   The Department of Homeland Security temporarily waived Jones Act requirements to facilitate movements of relief supplies for Texas and Florida Hurricane victims.  The waiver allows oil and gas suppliers to use foreign flagged vessels to move product and helps keep consumer prices down.

*   It is huge and there was only one way to move a full-scale model of a Space Launch System (SLS) Core Stage from a plant in northern Alabama to New Orleans.  The movement by barge went from the Black Warrior River to an assembly plant in New Orleans. NASA will use the SLS to practice handling the real thing.

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