Mobile District Reopens Demopolis Lock

Teams throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, have been working around the clock since January 16 to fix the Demopolis Lock in Demopolis, Alabama. The lock has been closed since a large portion of the upper miter sill broke off.

That hard work paid off, as the District reopened the Lock on May 16, 2024, exactly four months after the breach occurred.

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With an initial estimation of a late May to early June reopening, the reopening being ahead of schedule was welcome news not only to the District but to the partners who use and depend on the lock for commerce.

“Of course, we wanted to get the lock back open as soon as possible, but also to do it safely and get a quality product,” said Anthony Perkins, Black Warrior-Tombigbee Project Manager. “Opening ahead of schedule was great because it opened the waterway back for commercial traffic, relieving industries suffering large economic impacts. Some industry stakeholders estimated the impact to be a $1-2 million monthly loss.”

The lock chamber of the Demopolis Lock shows the large concrete portion of the upper sill that fell away on Feb. 3, 2024, Demopolis, Alabama. The Lock was breached on Jan. 16 when the sizeable concrete portion of the upper sill fell away. USACE PHOTO BY CHUCK WALKER

On January 16, the lock at Demopolis was in the downstream configuration (upper gates closed, lower gates opened) when the lock operator heard a loud boom and felt the lock building shake. The operator came out to inspect, and a large portion of the concrete upper sill had fallen away, allowing water to flow under the upper gates.

Since then, the Mobile District, along with partners from the Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC), the Inland Navigation Design Center (INDC), other USACE Districts, including Pittsburgh, and the O&M Contractor (R&D Maintenance Services), have been working 24/7 to get the lock reopened as quickly and safely as possible.

Mobile District Commander Col. Jeremy Chapman said the District and its partners’ hard work alleviated financial hardships for those who depend on the waterway for their livelihood.

A view of the repaired Demopolis Lock with a de-watered chamber at the reopening of the Demopolis Lock in Demopolis, Alabama, May 21, 2024. A large concrete portion of the lock broke off on January 16, and exactly four months later the Mobile District and USACE along with its partners was able to repair and reopen the lock. USACE PHOTO BY CHUCK WALKER

“Mobile District has outstanding partnerships throughout the region, and this lock sill failure had a major financial impact on them,” Chapman said. “Our partners were losing over $1 million per day in revenue, which includes many small and disadvantaged communities along the 700 miles of waterway. Our team worked 24/7 to open the lock as quickly as possible. The entire region is counting on us to avoid economic damages and the livelihoods of people who depend on these critical jobs.”

While it is evident that no one wants a lock to have a significant breach requiring closure and repair, the District’s expedient work showed that it can respond during a crisis and work with partners to develop a solution.

Anthony Perkins, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District Black Warrior-Tombigbee Project operations manager, right, answers questions from a reporter during the Grand Reopening of the Demopolis Lock in Demopolis, Alabama, May 21, 2024. USACE PHOTO BY CHUCK WALKER

“It shows that everyone can come together with their respective expertise and work so well together to not only solve the problem but do it in a coordinated timely manner,” Perkins said. “I firmly believe our stakeholders and commercial waterway users were impressed that the damaged upper miter sill was restored in only four months without fully dewatering the lock. This work could not have happened without great people working together with a common mission.”

Chapman said that he is pleased about the Demopolis Lock’s rebuilding and reopening ahead of schedule; both the District and its partners learned valuable lessons about the future and how to avoid such an incident in the future.

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“We must plan ahead and have a vision for the long-term maintenance, repair, and improvement of our aging infrastructure across all of our waterways,” Chapman said. “These waterways are the lifeblood of our economy, and we need to invest more to improve the reliability and sustainability of our country’s infrastructure.”

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