Industries brace for Allegheny River closure above Harrison

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Nov. 03–The planned closure of an Allegheny River lock near Natrona will halt river shipping for more than a month, but officials say the long lead time gave them a chance to prepare.

Starting Monday, Lock No. 4 in the Natrona section of Harrison will be closed around-the-clock until the night of Dec. 22 for the $2 million replacement of parts of the lock’s gates, according to the Army Corps of Engineers . Because it is a single-chamber lock, the work will prevent all traffic from moving past the lock and dam in either direction, said Ian McKelvey, Allegheny River supervisor and operations specialist for the corps.

Dave Konesni, president of Butler-based Nicholas Enterprises, said the planned nature of the closure gave his company time to reschedule deliveries to and from its Freeport Terminals near the Allegheny-Kiski confluence, and to make adequate storage space on-site for materials waiting to be shipped out. He praised the Army Corps for putting work into the lock’s upkeep and hopefully preventing future, unplanned closures.

“This kind of closure would have a disasterous effect on us (if unplanned),” Konesni said.

Products shipped upriver from international destinations can require months of lead time, and unplanned river closures due to breakdowns — like the one that closed two locks on the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky for a week in September — can create huge backups and problems for shipping, he said. Allegheny Lock 4 is near the northeastern edges of the inland river shipping network reaching down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Because it was scheduled, you’re able to plan and stockpile,” said Mary Ann Bucci, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. Seasonal commodities like road salt had already been delivered and stocked, she said, though Konesni said this was a prime time to move agricultural products and oil products.

At Armstrong Terminal in Schenley, which handles mainly animal feed products, customers at feed mills in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, New York and as far away as Michigan and Canada had gotten accustomed to getting large orders and building up their stocks in the fall and winter, so even the planned closure is at a difficult time, said Business Development and Marketing Manager Shane Gaines. International shipments of feed from Russia, China, Brazil and the Middle East were already arranged even before Armstrong was notified of the closure.

“We have one barge that’s being unloaded right now, but there are others downriver that are being diverted or are paying to sit,” Gaines said. Diverting materials to other terminals can be difficult because not every facility has the right certifications and safety measures for food, he said.

Corps spokeswoman Carol Vernon said Lock and Dam 4 opened in 1927; its last major maintenance was a complete de-watering and overhaul in 1996. The Corps worked with river industries and groups representing recreational boaters to settle on the best dates for the closure, she said.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or on Twitter @msantoni.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.