It’s a dirty job.
In recent years, the tainter gates at Newburgh Locks and Dam—those gates which control the flow of water through the dam—had become filled with mud and debris, inhibiting inspections and repairs as well as decreasing the service life of the gates themselves. Rather than put out a contract to have the repairs done, the staff at Newburgh, working extra hours in extreme conditions, confronted the challenge of cleaning out the gates.
Since the 1990s, the skin sheets—sheets of metal that cover and enclose the gates—had begun deteriorating, allowing the rush of the Ohio River to deposit mud, sticks and other debris inside the gates.
"Over the years, it accumulated to the point it’s at today, in some places up to five or six feet high," said Tony Barron, lockmaster, Newburgh Locks and Dam.
With the assistance of a couple of colleagues from Cannelton Locks and Dam just upriver, the locks and dam staff at Newburgh began taking off the large cover plates to expose the mud that was trapped inside and washing it out of the gates with a fire hose.
"It’s something we felt we had the capability to do, but we had never tried to tackle it before," said Waylon Humphrey, Louisville District assistant operations manager.
Work on the first gate took approximately two weeks from start to finish. By the third gate, the team completed the process of removing the skin sheets, cleaning out the gate, and replacing the skin sheets in only six working days, effectively cutting in half the time required.
In addition to the necessary cleaning and repair, the removal of the mud prevents further wear and tear on the structure as well as deterioration inside gates—a major savings, according to Barron.
"The mechanics are going beyond their normal duties and their efforts are saving us money while adding life to the gates," said Louisville District Commander Col. Christopher Beck.
"It is very dirty, nasty, time consuming work," added Humphrey, "but it is a great benefit to the structure, and it comes at a great cost savings as hiring a contractor to perform this effort would greatly exceed our labor cost to accomplish."
Debris removal from three of the nine tainter gates was completed before the weather turned too cold to continue. The remaining gates will be finished in spring 2015.
"These guys did amazing work, so hats off to them," said Barron.