New locks and dam now fully operational

ELLEN O'NAN | The Sun

Olmsted Locks and Dam is fully operational, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Olmsted replaces Ohio River Locks and Dams 52 and 53, located at Brookport and Grand Chain, Illinios.

The long-awaited Olmsted Locks and Dam became fully operational shortly after the Aug. 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District.

That means the new locks and dam is now responsible for maintaining navigation depth on the Ohio River from Smithland Locks and Dam to Olmsted. Locks and Dam 52 and 53, located at Brookport and Grand Chain, Illinois, are no longer in operation.

"The mission of the dam at 52 was to hold back pool (water) between Smithland Locks and Dam and 52. The mission of the dam at 53 was to hold pool between 52 and 53, but as of Sept. 7 that entire stretch of river is controlled by one site (Olmsted) instead of two," according to Katelyn Newton, Corps public affairs specialist with the Louisville District.

With the twin 1,200-foot Olmsted lock chambers operating since Sept. 7, "The total tonnage which has transited through the facility has been 14,816,455 tons, with the total number of vessels being 1,452, an average of 16 per day," Newton said.

With the locks at 52 and 53 no longer operating, all wickets are down and the navigable pass is being used at both. It is anticipated the wickets will be removed from the river in 2019, according to Newton. Demolition to remove river features at 52 is expected to begin in January or February. Some demolition work to remove the lower approach walls is already underway at Lock 53.

The antiquated design of Locks and Dams 52 and 53, originally completed in 1928 and 1929, respectively, made it impossible to meet the modern day traffic demands along the key stretch of lower Ohio.

Olmsted Locks and Dam and the Ohio River create a strategic region providing a connection between the Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. According to national inland waterway statistics, more tonnage passes through the region than any other place in America's inland navigation system.

The new locks will operate more efficiently and pass tows with fewer delays. The Corps estimated Olmsted will produce annual economic benefits to the nation of more than $640 million.

"With Olmsted operational, it takes a lot of the risk of delay that was associated with 52 and 53 away when moving product through that area," said Matt Ricketts, president/CEO of Crounse Corporation.

"Approximately 100 million tons of cargo moves through that area, so it gives shippers more confidence. A lot of export coal moves through there and critical liquid products as well," he said.

One of the keys to Olmsted being completed was the consistent support of Kentucky's federal delegation, according to Ricketts.

"No one was more instrumental on that front than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," he said. "He, Sen. Rand Paul, Congressman Jamie Comer and former Congressman Ed Whitfield have been real champions for the Olmsted project and the inland waterways infrastructure in general. The industry is thankful for their leadership."

Olmsted was authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 1988, and work began in 1993.

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