Locks and dams need to be fixed now

Recently, I was the captain on my company’s flagship vessel, the Belle of Cincinnati, on a trip to Ironton, Ohio, and Ashland, Ky. When we arrived at the Meldahl Locks and Dam, the small 600’ chamber was down for repairs so all traffic had to be routed through the 1,200’ chamber. (The Meldahl Locks and Dam are located 30 miles east of Cincinnati at mile marker 436 on the Ohio River and create a 95-mile navigational pool between it and the Greenup Locks and Dam.)

Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except when you consider that several others lock and dams on the system are also undergoing repairs. The current delay at Markland Lock and Dam on the Ohio, for example, is over two days.

The delay at Meldahl wasn’t too bad because one of the tows waiting to lock through allowed us to go ahead of him. However, on the return trip we had a 2.5-hour delay to wait for a large tow to lock through ahead of us. I know passenger boats get priority over tows, but it is still a problem when you consider the big picture.

Last year there were several lock maintenance issues and this year is much of the same. Also, in case you forgot, back in 2009 Markland was the lock where the gate actually fell off with a passenger vessel locking through inside the chamber.

The Army Corps of Engineers must get adequate funding to address all of these lock maintenance issues. The economic recovery will depend on it. The federal government must do this to keep products moving along the river. Just imagine if all the cargo moved along the river system were trucked to its destination instead. Can you even imagine the massive gridlock that would occur on our highways? Can you envision the delays at rail crossings with the extra long trains that would be needed to carry all the extra cars loaded with coal and other cargo?

Let’s all make sure this doesn’t happen by letting our representatives in Washington, D.C., know that the Corps of Engineers must be given adequate funds to keep the cargo moving along our waterways.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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