Mississippi River lock closes after 52 years

After Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam at mile 853.9 shuts down, businesses that depend on barges to haul scrap metal and aggregate will have to shift to truck or rail, which will cost more and add to the traffic congestion in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. And concerns persist about the precedent the closing sets for other locks. 

Hardest hit will be Aggregate Industries, which owns two tugs and 20 barges and hauls sand, gravel and limestone from mines for projects in the Twin Cities area including the new NFL stadium for the Vikings.

“We will no longer be able to use barging. We’ll be converting to trucking mode,” said Randy Gaworski, the company’s general manager, aggregates and ready-mix. And they’ll need landside equipment to unload trucks.

They have averaged about two barges a day but were using four in preparation for the closing, he said. In the future, they’ll barge material to their St. Paul location, unload it and truck it to Minneapolis, accounting for about 20,000 truck trips a year. 

Others will have to adjust, too.

“We will lose some tonnage we’ve moved,” said Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services, St. Paul. The company likely will stop using the other two of the three Twin Cities locks as well, since they handle more tonnage below them.

The lock is being closed because of a provision in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. Proponents of the move say it’s to protect the waterway from Asian carp, though there’s no mention of the voracious fish in the legislation. Others said it was designed to get rid of river-dependent businesses and redevelop the area.

 “The one thing that worries me is we now have lock closure for no reason. Where will that lead us?” said Greg Genz, president of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association, St. Paul.

The cost of shifting from barge to truck will be an estimated $21.5 million through 2040, based on factors such as vehicle operating costs, added highway travel time, “and safety and environmental costs of moving the various types of commodities through the state by truck,” according to the Corps of Engineers environmental assessment. It also will mean the loss of 84 jobs.

Barge traffic through the lock averaged 755,834 tons annually from 2010 to 2014.

At the lock itself, bulkheads will be placed upstream as a barrier. Some equipment such as hydraulic cylinders, pumps and motors will be removed to protect them from the weather and either stored or made available for use elsewhere, said Corps spokesman George Stringham. The tainter gate will remain because the lock serves a secondary purpose as a water-release valve during floods. 

The observation deck — now open only by appointment for groups — will operate through the summer. Corps employees were given a choice of moving to another lock or a job elsewhere in the system.

“The lock hasn’t been deauthorized,” Stringham said. The Corps has just been told to close it to navigation. 

— Dale K. DuPont

 

About the author

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.