By Victoria Fowler
Gazette Reporter 

Barge traffic comes to a stop for dam repairs


September 19, 2019

On Sept. 5 a crack was found in the concrete sill of the navigation lock at the Bonneville Dam located on the Columbia River.

The time it takes to repair the sill will have the locks closed until 10 a.m. on Sept. 30, according to the report from the Portland District office of the Army Corps of Engineers.

With the closure, barges headed downstream will get stalled behind Bonneville.

“The main issue will be for coastal exporters who had booked wheat for September arrival, ” said Dan Hart, general manager at Almota Elevator Co.

Hart said those on the coast may have some additional costs in failing to load or discharge ships in agreed times or from receiving replacement wheat via the slower and more costly rail option.

This closure will affect wheat shipping from eastern Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Hart mentioned that once the Bonneville Dam opens, if there are no empty barges available in the upriver system, it will take 48 to 72 hours to get everything running as normal.

The Bonneville Dam is the last of eight dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers.

“Our two largest barge lines on the Columbia/Snake River system report over 100,000 tons of stranded product above Bonneville Dam,” said Kristin Meira, executive director of the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association in a press release email. “This incident also shows the critical need to fund comprehensive maintenance and a rehabilitation program for the eight locks.”

The Columbia Snake River system is the largest wheat export gateway, according to the association. Each year, nearly 10 percent of all U.S. wheat exports move by barge just on the Snake River.

“Wheat harvest is all but complete, and garbs, the remaining crop, are not shipped by water.” Hart said.

Hart also said if all goes well it will be “kind of a dodged bullet” in his opinion.

Wanda Keefer, manager at the Port of Clarkston, noted how the closure is causing a substantial impact on the cruise boat industry.

“September is our busiest month, about 2,250 visitors had been expected to cross the Port of Clarkston docks just during the 25-day closure,” Keefer said. “Eleven dockings, involving the 22 exchanges of passengers, will not occur as a result of this closure.”

This means that approximately 1,550 passengers will be stranded and no longer coming to the Lewis-Clark Valley.

There are four different cruise lines and six different boats that travel to Clarkston via the Columbia/Snake River system.

Four of the six boats are trapped on the upstream side of the dam.

“A rough estimate of the financial impact of the 25-day closure on just the cruise boat industry to the Lewis-Clark Valley is over $500,000,” Keefer said. “There will be additional major impacts on other communities along the river, and surprisingly, also Spokane, as many cruise boat passengers fly out of or into the Spokane airport.”

Keefer said that at least two tour boats are on this side and 700 visitors will still experience the Columbia Snake River system and Hells Canyon National Recreation Area.

A photo published in the Statesman Journal at Salem, Ore., shows the crack descending in a diagonal angle. The sill block is curved to conform with design of the lock gates.

Grain from terminals along the Snake River can travel through the four Lower Snake locks before entering the Columbia River. Lower Granite and Little Goose Dams are located on the Whitman County segment of the river upstream from Almota and Riparia, respectively.

Ice Harbor and Lower Monumental are the two other dams on the Snake River part of the system.

Pomeroy Grain Growers Thursday, Sept. 12, reported last week one barge departed their terminal on the Garfield County side at Central Ferry and is believed to be stopped somewhere downstream.

Almota Elevator reported they do not have a barge shipment stalled.

Columbia Grain at Central Ferry loaded out a Tidewater Barge Sept. 11 on the Whitman County side of the river and headed downstream. Tidewater earlier reported it will shut down shipments while awaiting the repairs to finish at the Bonneville lock.

Bonneville is located approximately 40 miles upstream from Portland.


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