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Illinois River locks and dams closing; nearly $200 million in repairs

July 3, 2020   WMBD/WYZZ - Peoria, IL

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Barge traffic through Peoria will soon be halted.


Five locks and dams throughout the Illinois River are undergoing full closures.


A project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says is needed, for an industry that benefits the global economy.


“There are 5 locks and dams that will be going through various lengths of closures.  LaGrange lock and dam and dams closed July 1 and will be closed through September 30th.  Peoria Lock is scheduled to close July 6th and will remain closed until September 30th.  Starved Rock lock and  Dam will go through a full closure that started July 1st and will go Oct. 29th.  Marseillles lock and dam has a full closure scheduled for July 6th through October 29th and Dresden Island had some partial daytime closures that started July 1 and will have some partial closures starting July 6 through October 3rd.” - Allen Marshall, District Spokesperson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


A $200 million project is set to halt barge traffic for the next 3-4 months.


“It’s gonna shut down all barge traffic with the locks, they’re not gonna be able to process through.  That’s a huge hit for the local farmers.  Because a lot of their product is carried by the barges, to and from the locations.  So the farmers are either going to go with rail or they’re gonna have to go with trucks,” says Fon Du Lac Park District Director Mike Johnson.


Allen Marshall says this work is long overdue.


“Peoria was constructed and opened in 1939, so you’re looking at a piece of infrastructure that’s close to 80 years old. During 80 years, a lot can happen.  They’re in various states of degradation.  Through the years we’ve done a lot of adaptive maintenance to help increase their life cycle.  When they’re originally constructed, the engineering design life for all these locks is about 50 years.  Now, we’ve been able to, through that adaptive maintenance, we’ve extended the life of the locks, which is going to extend our availability to keep that vein of commerce open,” Marshall said.


While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has maintained the Lock and Dams over the years, this is the first full shutdown the Peoria Lock and Dam has ever gone through.


“They’re gonna de-water the lock.  De-watering is to not be confused with doing anything with the river.  They’ll just take the water that’s from inside the lock chamber, the chamber the boats go in and out of, they’ll take that water out, do a lot of inspections to the concrete work and they may make repairs to other functioning parts of the lock like the lighter gates and other components within the infrastructure that need to be looked at and seen without the water within the chamber,” Marshall said.


Allen says moving product along the river is the most cost-effective way to transport it.


He adds the financial impact can benefit the whole world.


“If you think of it like this, the Illinois waterway is essentially a vein of commerce, not only for our nation but the global economy.  The Illinois waterway feeds to the Mississippi River which feeds to the Gulf of Mexico which means goods that go up and down this river may end up in the global market and they certainly help the national economy with whether it’s farm goods or other products going up and down the river,” Marshall said.


Mike Johnson says while recreational boaters can still be out on the river, his crews will be ready to go in case they have to perform rescue missions.


“Our biggest concern when the water drops below 12 feet, in the rescue business, is getting out to the channel to perform our jobs. the water drops, then we don’t have as much water in the harbors as well,” Johnson said.


Johnson says since the river levels are down, it’ll be much safer for workers out on the river.


“It’s a lot safer for the construction crews and the workers that are doing the inspections and repairs.  Obviously when the river is higher, the currents’ gonna be quicker, and there’s more chance of somebody gonna get hurt.  Especially when you’re dealing with a lock and dam,” Johnson said.


Peoria Lock and Dam is set to be closed until Sept. 30 and Starved Rock until Oct. 29.


Allen from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the river levels will be maintained, but he says going from lock to lock will not be possible until the repairs are done.


“The closures themselves more or less create a stop to barge traffic because they can’t go from lock to lock.  For recreational boaters, they’ll still be able to recreate in the pool there between each lock, you couldn’t go from lock to lock.  So that section of the river is essentially closed through October.  The navigation industry had several years to prepare, as this was something we took great strides to make was coordinated,” he said.


“I know there have been recreational boaters that had concerns they may not be able to recreate, that we were going to be able to change the levels of the river due to this construction and locks closure.  That is not the case.  The river levels will be maintained, as they always have been, to that Congressionally-authorized 9-foot depth for the navigation channel.  There should be no effects to recreational boaters within the pool it’s just going to be going from lock to lock that’s not going to be possible anymore until the closures are done,” Marshall added.


Marshall says some of the $200 million worth of repairs has already been done. He adds a lot of the work is being done on the LaGrange lock and dam.