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Posted 9/15/2016

Release no. 2016-010

Todd Hornback

LOUISVILLE, KY. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District reopened navigation traffic Wednesday at approximately 8 p.m. Central Time at Ohio River Locks and Dam 52 at Brookport, Illinois, after workers successfully raised the dam.

The Corps reduced water releases from Smithland Locks and Dam upstream around 3 a.m. Wednesday to provide better river conditions for the Corps to raise dam wickets at Locks and Dam 52. The reduced water releases resulted in a lower pool level, which stopped commercial navigation from locking through Locks and Dam 52 around 5 a.m.  

Based on the contingency plan to hold pool at the dam, the Corps had announced it could take up to seven days to reopen the river to commercial traffic. If the low river conditions had not been addressed, based on National Weather Service forecasts and historical data, the project could have lost pool and caused weeks of navigation impacts.  

“Thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard, river industry, the Kentucky emergency operations center, and Nashville District Corps of Engineers for their support during this emergency shutdown of the Locks and Dam 52 pool. I also want to thank the Louisville District employees who raised the wickets—difficult and hazardous work—to reopen the river to commercial navigation,” Col. Christopher Beck, commander, Louisville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said.  

During the dam raising, vessels were stopped in the Smithland Locks and Dam pool at Ohio River Mile 918.5 going downstream, at Barkley Lock on the Cumberland River, and Kentucky Lock on the Tennessee River. River traffic was also halted on the Ohio River going upstream at Locks and Dam 52.

The Corps closed the locks at 52 after the dam lost three wickets when their base connections failed and attempts to raise remaining wickets were unsuccessful because of river and dam conditions.

The three-wicket hole blocked the Corps workboat from crossing the dam to continue raising wickets—increasing safety concerns on already hazardous work. In a proactive move, Corps contractors placed anchors in the Ohio River bed. If another gap in the wicket dam should occur, the workboat can attach to the anchors to steady the vessel and cross missing wickets, allowing work to raise the dam to proceed safely.

Although the three-wicket hole has not been repaired, the Corps plans to sustain the dam until natural river conditions raise levels to allow the dam to be lowered and the missing wickets replaced.

The Corps worked to minimize impacts on navigation and transportation of fuels, grains and other commodities, and to avoid impacts to water intakes for businesses and communities.  

“Locks and Dam 52 is a remnant of the 1920s river system, and the 1200-foot lock, built in the 1970s, was a temporary chamber to last for up to 15 years. It is well past its life expectation,” Beck said. “We continue Olmsted Locks and Dam construction which is planned to be in operation in 2018. Then, Locks and Dams 52 and 53 can be removed from operation.”

For videos and photographs of Locks and Dam 52:

•Raising the Wickets at 52:

•History of 52 and 53:

Photos:  flickr.com/lrlusace
•Dive Deflector:
In-house designed, built

•Diver at 52:
Wicket work at Locks and Dam 52

Wickets at Lock 52

Locks and Dam 52 undergoes periodic inspection