On Thursday, Nov. 9, Council leaders of the Gila River Indian Community, led by Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin work on a solar-covered canal pilot project on the Tribe’s Level Top Canal.
The historic agreement was approved by the GRIC Council on November 1.
The agreement starts the first phase of the solar-over-canal project and will involve construction of solar panels over a portion of the Community’s 1-10 Level Top canal to conserve water and generate renewable energy for tribal irrigation facilities.
This historic agreement represents the first solar-over-canal project of its kind in the United States to initiate construction. The cost of Phase I of the solar-covered canal project is estimated to be $6.744 million, and it is expected to produce approximately 1 MW of renewable energy to offset energy needs and costs for tribal farmers.
With the execution of this historic agreement, the Army Corps will now begin the actual construction phase of the project, with completion expected in 2025.
In his remarks during the event, Governor Lewis offered his appreciation to Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works for his partnership in this project.
“I want to personally thank Assistant Secretary Connor for his vision and steadfast support for this innovative project. Our work with the Assistant Secretary dates back decades and the Community deeply appreciates him and his support.”
ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke attended the signing ceremony.
“This is the type of creative thinking that can help move all of us toward a more sustainable future,” said Director Buschatzke.
“Leveraging existing infrastructure such as the Level Top Canal to help provide sustainable, dependable energy – and to do so as part of cooperative partnership like this one – constitutes a win all around.”
Following remarks from Governor Lewis and Assistant Secretary Connor, the parties signed the agreement to begin construction of the project, which is designed to generate clean, renewable energy as well as help reduce evaporation.
A “Project Partnership Agreement,” or PPA, is a legally binding agreement between the federal government and a non-Federal sponsor such as state or municipal governments, or, as in this instance, a Native American Tribe. The projects historically involve construction of a water resources project.
The PPA describes the project and the responsibilities of the federal government and the non-federal sponsor in the cost sharing and execution of work.
Over the past two years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had nearly 50 agreements and over 100 construction activities underway, thanks to over $17 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These projects are making a difference for communities across the nation, from protecting against floods to boosting commerce to preserving and enhancing aquatic habitats.
The more the merrier.
That common saying could be the motto for an effort within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to create a near real-time system that would track the safety and accessibility of our nation’s inland waterways.
Taking advantage of vessels already on the water, an effort in the works at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) will use those vessels’ depth finders and GPS to create a snapshot of a channel and any obstructions that may exist.
This information, crowdsourced for private and public vessels, would support USACE’s existing survey fleet and reduce the impact of any threats to navigation on the 25,000 miles of inland waterways USACE maintains.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has a fleet of surveyors that do highly accurate, precise surveys on a periodic schedule for all of the waterways,” said Dr. Brandan Scully, a research civil engineer with ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory. “But given the nature of those surveys, cost, time, available vessels, etc., we do not have the ability to continuously monitor.
“In order for us to do that with traditional resources, it would cost millions of dollars.”
Scully said crowdsourcing bathymetry would use equipment that already exists on vessels, such as depth finders and GPS, and supplement it with a device that would transmit that data. Once collected in a cloud, the data would then be quickly analyzed and aggregated with data from other vessels in the same area to give a picture of that portion of the waterway.
“It’s relatively simple. It’s like plugging into a router at your home for the internet, and it aggregates the position and the depth observed by the vessel and sends it off to a cloud computing resource,” Scully said. “And because there are many more waterway users, because they’re working all the time, we can have a rolling picture of parts of the waterway based on who is in the crowd and how much they are moving around.”
Scully said this information – this picture – could then be used to prioritize the actions of the USACE survey fleet and its ability to capture accurate scans to better observe any concerns with navigation. It also provides the ability to watch the waterways between scheduled surveys.
As for the next step, Scully said ERDC is currently working with public and private organizations to determine the best device and setup to roll the program out on a larger scale for a proof of concept. In addition, he said there is still work to be done on where to best house the data and distribute the information.
In a discussion at the recent national meeting of the Association of the United States Army, Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, 55th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of USACE, said he envisions the use of this crowdsourced bathymetry as a sort of digital traffic map for inland waterways, much in the same way as popular apps on cellphones provide updates on highway traffic. He also said a program such as this would help in USACE’s response to natural disasters, such as hurricanes.
“An example I would use is we just had Hurricane Idalia come through the state of Florida just a few weeks ago and the South Atlantic Division has five survey vessels that have to cover 12 ports in the state,” Spellmon said. “And that takes time after a storm. You have to get our survey crews there and work with the Coast Guard to reopen those ports.”
Spellmon said being able to pull data from public and private vessels already navigating in the area would provide “real-time processes of the federal navigation channel, and we would not have to put a survey vessel in that area right away.”
Scully said the analogy of a traffic app is a good one.
“Those apps tell you the speed of traffic and where the police might be and stuff like that,” he said. “But what this is telling us, essentially, is where are the potholes? Where are the speed bumps?”
The critical portions of this research are determining the technology to use to transmit and collect the data (whether that is a private or public solution), finding ways to aggregate and analyze it, and then figuring out how best to push out the information to those who need it, such as commercial operations and teams tasked with clearing any threats to navigation.
“That’s one of the nice things about ERDC … we filter the solutions and find the right answer, or we find the best available answer right now,” Scully said. “We have to have a good match between the Army’s mission and the provider’s capability.”
While the program continues to wait for additional funding to advance the technology, Scully said the exciting part is there is already buy-in from some Districts and Divisions, who believe such a technology would help their inland waterway operations.
“The Districts and Divisions really want this. I have been working with the Mississippi Valley Division and the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. They want this as fast as they can,” Scully said. “They have shippers willing to go out and buy this on their own.”
Scully said this technology and idea are not novel -- similar technology is already being used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for ocean and coastal operations, but it would be the first use of this technology on inland navigation.
“Mariners on our inland waterways are not necessarily going to benefit knowing the channel is in good shape,” Scully said. “They will benefit more knowing that there’s an obstruction and where that obstruction is.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District works in partnership with The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division’s Regional Rivers Repair Fleet, also known as R3F, on major maintenance and repair efforts for the district’s locks and dams on the Ohio and Green River and for the district’s 17 Flood Risk Management Dams across Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.
“Louisville District’s partnership with the Regional Rivers Repair Fleet is vital to the reliability, resiliency and efficiency of the district’s navigation and flood risk management infrastructure,” said Shawn Kenney Louisville District Operations Division Technical Support Branch chief. “Our goal is to ensure reliability of our system through proactive maintenance and repairs before deficiencies have operational impacts. With aging and deteriorating infrastructure and resource constraints, there is a trend toward a fix-as-fails maintenance strategy.”
The Louisville District and R3F have been working together for years to improve maintenance processes.
“R3F is the preferred resource provider for performing much of this major maintenance work on our infrastructure because the in-house capabilities provide seasoned expertise with the unique work and flexibility if differing site conditions are found once construction is in-progress,” Kenney said. “The adaptability of R3F provides an enhanced level of risk management that would not be possible if all major maintenance work was contracted out.”
Having the ability to mobilize in-house fleets improves the resiliency to restore infrastructure to service quickly in the event of an emergency, Kenney added.
R3F was formed in 2016 when individual river district repair fleets previously located in Louisville, Huntington, Pittsburgh and Nashville were consolidated. This standardized core work and fleet management, safety risk management, equipment maintenance, training and staffing.
More recently, the Heavy Capacity Fleet of the R3F completed miter gate replacements at McAlpine Locks and Dam in Louisville, Kentucky, and Cannelton Locks and Dam in Cannelton, Indiana, to increase reliability and efficiency on the inland waterways system. The Louisville District and R3F’s initiative consolidated this work from two seasons to one, minimizing the time the lock chamber had to be shut down greatly reducing impacts to industry.
“Completing this dual miter gate change out and floating mooring bitt replacements, in one low water season rather than two, reduced industry impacts by over four months in 2022, and allowed for project cost savings of over $10 million,” said Waylon Humphrey Louisville District Operations Division chief. “Most importantly, now that Louisville and R3F have demonstrated this is possible at McAlpine, and repeatable at Cannelton, we have laid the groundwork for the miter gate replacement program timeline to be cut in half.”
The Louisville District and R3F have been paving the way driving toward greater efficiencies with the fleets, according to Kenney.
“The team is pushing the envelope on efficiency and proving successful through diligent planning, aggressive scheduling practices, and proactive risk management,” Kenney said. “The prime examples of this include projects at McAlpine Lock and Dam in 2020 and Cannelton Locks and Dam in 2022, which set a new standard for completing miter gate replacements on both ends of a lock chamber in a single year.”
These projects successfully reduced the timeframe from two five-month closures over two years to a single five-month closure and reduced the budget from $47 million to $37 million.
“These efficiencies allow USACE to move on to the next critical needs on the long list of backlogged maintenance,” Kenney said. “Also, the reduced closure times benefits navigation industry and its customers to the tune of millions of dollars.
The R3F team is currently working with the Louisville District at John T. Myers Locks and Dam in Mt. Vernon, Indiana, to rehab the miter gates in the 1,200-foot lock chamber.
“At John T. Myers Locks and Dam, the Heavy Capacity Fleet is attempting to reduce the scope of work from 18 weeks, which was the duration the last time a similar project was performed, to 10 weeks,” Kenney said. “This Louisville District and R3F team realizes that pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone is prudent and rewarding; we are embracing the notion that we were not made for comfort, but for greatness.”
Thalle Construction Company celebrated reaching 500,000 labor hours without a lost time accident in constructing a larger navigation lock on the Tennessee River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District recognized the remarkable milestone last week and thanked construction workers for their role in delivering a project of national significance.
Lt. Col. Robert W. Green, Nashville District commander, spoke during a special lunch Oct. 17 provided by the contractor for the workforce, and addressed the contractor and resident office team about safety and what it means moving forward without delays.
“To have a milestone like this on this project where we are meeting and exceeding production goals, but also keeping each other safe, is an exceptional milestone,” Green said. “I really appreciate that this can’t happen without a team effort.”
Green stressed that safety is also an individual responsibility requiring workers to look out for each other, and that ultimately makes it possible to keep the $380 million downstream lock monoliths contract on track. More importantly, leaders, safety officials and the folks on the ground make safety part of a culture and make it possible for people to go home safely each day, he added.
The Nashville District and its contractor, Thalle Construction Company, are building a larger 1,200-foot by 110-foot navigation lock chamber about 22 miles upstream of where the Tennessee River flows into the lower Ohio River. It’s a massive project with a lot of moving pieces and involves a lot of heavy equipment and conveyer systems placing concrete overhead.
Peter Tully, Tully Group president, recognized the complexity of the project and praised the construction leaders, the coaches and the captains, that care about the team.
“Just keep doing what you are doing. I appreciate it,” Tully said.
Steve Kohler, Thalle Construction president and chief executive officer, said that half a million hours are considerable and very meaningful because injuries can have huge impacts on the construction team and the project.
“The fact that we are tracking so positively here is truly impressive. I appreciate the safety group here. I appreciate the way they take care of the business and take care of people,” Kohler said. “My hope is that when everyone comes to work that each person intends to do their best that day.”
As workers ate their lunches, Kohler also drew attention to a sign inside the bay that noted how the team is bound together for the singular purpose of safely constructing, on time and on budget, a high-quality navigation project in support of the USACE civil works mission. He said it takes hard, dirty, sweaty work, and he appreciates the focus on safety in these conditions to meet these objectives.
Bill Ryan, Tully Group vice president of Risk Management, said leaders make it a point to engage the workforce from a perspective of education and encouragement, so everyone understands the importance of safety, to avoid injuries, and recognize that fatalities have negative impacts on people foremost.
“This is a very worthwhile project, one that you should be proud to be part of,” Ryan said. “My message to you is thank you and congratulations.”
Brian Sharpe, Thalle Project executive, said he is on site regularly and sees what is going on, and realizes that this is a very positive achievement.
“The one thing I want to talk about safety is that everybody here can help the safety program by looking out for the people working with you,” Sharpe said. “So be your brother’s keeper. Look out for one another so we can all go home safely.”
Jeremiah Manning, Nashville District’s resident engineer for the Kentucky Lock Addition Project, said the work is currently estimated for completion in May 2027, which will continue to require close coordination between the Corps of Engineers and contractor to ensure operations continue safely.
The project involves constructing 51 monoliths, which will require an estimated 375,000 cubic yards of concrete to complete the lock chamber. This is enough concrete to fill up more than 114 Olympic swimming pools. Thalle Construction Company has placed about 10 percent of the concrete as of September 2023.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps. The public can also follow Kentucky Lock on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/kentuckylock.)
Sixteen years to the day after Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana, Hurricane Ida made landfall just 40 miles down the coast. In addition to their date and location, these storms shared similar characteristics, which has lead to multiple comparisons. Thankfully, lessons learned from Katrina and efforts to mitigate future devastation have been successful.
Following the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) embarked on one of the largest and most comprehensive public works projects in American history. The USACE established the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS) to provide the greater New Orleans Area a 100-year level of risk reduction, meaning that infrastructure would be established to defend against a storm surge that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year.
One of the most critical measures of HSDRRS is protecting levees against the erosion-causing hydraulic forces of wave overtopping. Without protection, overtopping can lead to significant erosion on the landside of the levee and lead to a potential breach of the levee itself. The primary reason that Katrina was so catastrophic was that the 28 to 30 foot storm surge overtopped the levee system, causing massive erosion and scour that lead to multiple levee breaches. The failure of the levee system created extensive flooding that impacted about 80% of New Orleans.
To improve erosion control on the top and side slopes of the levees, the USACE used High-Performance Turf Reinforcement Mat (HPTRM) to armor the levees against overtopping. The HPTRM protection included four feet on the flood side, across the top and completely down the protected size, ten feet past the grade brake.
The USACE requested HPTRMs that meet the standards outlined by the EPA and Storm Water Technology Fact sheet. PROPEX Armormax was selected as one of the systems to be used. Armormax combines HPTRM with Engineered Earth Anchors to lock soil in place and protect against hydraulic stresses.
To ensure its effectiveness, the USACE required rigorous testing before the project began. USACE partnered with Colorado State University (CSU) to build a full-scale wave overtopping simulator (largest in the world). The simulator tested erosion resistance of Armormax for 500-year resiliency overtopping conditions.
Testing showed that Armormax provided increased levee resilience and durability. Additionally, testing showed that using the Armormax system reinforces vegetation on the earthen levees, which reduces the risk of breaching caused by wave overtopping.
On August 29, 2021, the upgraded levee system was put to the real test when Hurricane Ida rolled ashore. The next day the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East shared that “there were no levee breaches or overtopping within the HSDRRS.”
While Hurricane Ida has been Louisiana’s biggest test since Katrina, Armormax has stood its ground against two other destructive hurricanes. Penn Levee, which is armored with Armormax, withstood overtopping from both Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Isaac.
Solmax has had an ongoing relationship with the USACE for 14 years, and Armormax has been used to stabilize more than 100 miles of levees throughout the New Orleans area. The success of stabilizing the levees in New Orleans had led the USACE to use Armormax on river levees and canals both for erosion control and slope stability throughout the United States.
Ninety-nine percent of counties in the United States have experienced at least one significant flooding event in the last 25 years, and there have been 33 flood events costing a billion dollars in the U.S. since 1980 according to the American Flood Coalition. Similarly, the EPA estimates that the average 100-year floodplain will increase 45 percent by the year 2100.
Due to this anticipated surge, engineers and agencies are taking a more proactive approach to mitigate flood hazards rather than addressing damage after it has occurred. For example, FEMA launched the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program that shifts funds from reactive disaster spending toward investment in community resilience. With this proactive approach, sustainability and resiliency are becoming more important in flood mitigation project design.
According to the FEMA fact sheet, Natural Hazard Mitigation Save Interim Report, for every $1 spent on federal mitigation grants, an average of $6 is saved. Additionally, the losses avoided by federally funded riverine flood mitigation projects exceed the money spent, with an estimated 7x return on investment.
The cost of Hurricane Ida is estimated at around $75 billion and ranks as the number 5 most expensive hurricane is U.S. history1. Without the mitigation efforts of the USACE, it’s safe to say these costs would have been much higher. Hurricane Katrina tops the list, costing $128 billion.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has chosen six contractors to compete for contracts worth up to $5 billion aimed at stabilizing Puerto Rico's power system. This decision comes in the wake of several storms and an earthquake over recent years that have left the power grid in Puerto Rico in a precarious state.
These multiple award task order contracts, granted by USACE, Savannah District, span a five-year ordering period. The primary objective of these contracts is to provide temporary power augmentation and address related issues with power generation facilities, as outlined by USACE. At an industry event earlier this year, officials stated that the contractors' task would involve enabling the generation of 350 MW to 700 MW at various locations across Puerto Rico.
The anticipated scope of work encompasses supplying equipment such as dual-fuel generators capable of running on natural gas or diesel, the installation of said equipment, and its operation for periods estimated to range from six to 18 months, according to USACE solicitation documents. Task orders may also entail the repair and replacement of components within existing transmission and distribution facilities. Close coordination with the public Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and utility company LUMA Energy will be a crucial aspect of the contractors' responsibilities.
The selected firms include Amentum Services; AshBritt; CDM Constructors; OMP Solutions; PTSI Managed Services; and Weston Solutions, as confirmed by the U.S. Dept. of Defense contract award notice.
USACE intends to employ hybrid firm-fixed price task orders that incorporate elements of cost-plus fixed fees to account for fluctuations in fuel prices. The solicitation emphasizes that fuel costs pose the highest risk for this work, given the historical volatility of the petroleum market.
In response to last year's Hurricane Fiona, which temporarily plunged the island into darkness, the Biden administration established the Puerto Rico Power System Stabilization Task Force. This task force, consisting of USACE, FEMA, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency, has prioritized initiatives to add 150 MW in temporary power generation units at the Palo Seco Power Plant and another 200 MW of temporary generation at different facilities, according to the White House.
President Joe Biden underlined the importance of this effort, stating, "We know that the climate crisis and more extreme weather are going to continue to hit this island and hit the United States overall, and as we rebuild, we have to ensure that we build it to last. We're particularly focused on the power grid."
Two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District Planning Division team members participated in the 2023 State of the Los Angeles River Watershed Symposium Sept. 19 at the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles.
The symposium brought together governments, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, scientists, academics, agency representatives, land managers and other interested parties to discuss emerging concerns about the Los Angeles River in the era of climate change.
Megan Whalen, a watershed program manager with the LA District and urban waters ambassador, was one of four panelists who participated in a breakout session titled, “Weathering Change,” in which audience participants discussed climate impacts on communities and strategies for resilience.
“I think the real emphasis today was on environmental justice and working with communities that will be even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” she said. “Severe weather has the ability to impact all communities; however, vulnerable communities are going to be even more at risk.”
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin or income regarding the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies with no group bearing a disproportionate burden of environmental harms and risks.
For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, environmental justice and disproportionate impacts to Justice40 communities are considered throughout the agency’s Civil Works programs and in all phases of project planning and decision-making.
Environmental justice is when everyone receives the same degree of protection and equal access to Civil Works programs and services to achieve a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.
“So, in being here today, we not only are able to represent what we do,” Whalen said, “but also (represent) the partnership that we have with the Council of Watershed Health.”
A poster session followed the evening reception at the symposium, where attendees were able to walk around and discuss various collaborating agencies’ posters.
Manya Singh, a study manager for environmental justice initiatives with the LA District, presented her environmental justice and engineering with nature posters and discussed the Corps’ goals in achieving Justice40, as well as the Corps work with engineering with nature.
“We're here today to talk about these two initiatives and to indicate to our friends and partners these are two initiatives that we are looking for new connections and new opportunities to work on,” Singh said.
Singh’s environmental justice poster shows a recently developed map of the district’s area of operations, with various overlays that highlighted the environmental justice outreach conducted in local communities in 2023.
Singh’s engineering with nature poster was highlighted in the symposium’s pamphlet.
“I did spend a lot of time on this poster,” Singh said. “Engineering with nature is an initiative out of (the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Research and Development Center), and, previously, the San Francisco District was considered the proving ground … recently the whole (South Pacific Division) has become a proving ground. That includes the Los Angeles District, so we are trying to let our communities know we are really pushing the engineering with nature approach. This poster highlights the four elements of the approach.”
For more information about the Corps’ environmental justice and engineering with nature initiatives, visit:
A groundbreaking ceremony in the Pittsburgh region set the stage for updating the Ohio River’s oldest navigation system.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District welcomed industry, community and political leaders for the ceremony, digging shovels into a pile of dirt at the Montgomery Locks and Dam facility Aug. 11. The event marked the start of a construction project with benefits that will flow into the nation’s economy.
“You’ve probably noticed driving on site today. Construction is already underway,” said Col. Nicholas Melin, the commander of the Pittsburgh District.
“It’s only fitting that we lift our shovels and take this step together continuing the tradition of great partnership,” he said.
Melin shoveled the dirt alongside U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania; Austin Davis, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania; Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor to the President and White House for infrastructure; Jaime A. Pinkham, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; Mark Gentile, the president of Trumbull Corps; and Mary Ann Bucci, the executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.
“The Southwestern Pennsylvania economy couldn’t function without the Montgomery Locks and Dam. I worked to secure this investment from the infrastructure law so the Army Corps can upgrade the locks and dam to keep commerce flowing through our region,” Casey said.
“This is a celebration of a commitment of investment to a critically important project, not only for Beaver County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, and not only for our commonwealth, but for a significant region of the United States,” he said.
Montgomery is part of the Upper Ohio navigation system, which sees 15 to 20 million tons of materials pass through its river chambers annually. The Upper Ohio Navigation Project is expected to support 28,800 jobs over its construction life, and 5,400 jobs annually after completion.
“The investment we make today will pay dividends, not for years or decades but for generations. Long, long overdue,” Casey said.
Overall, the Pittsburgh District operates 23 locks and dams on the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers, saving shippers and consumers approximately $4 billion in transportation costs compared to using other means such as trucks or rail.
“Our inland waterways are a critical artery sustaining the nation's economy and families by delivering goods to our homes, connecting us to global markets, and bolstering employment. The investments we are making today will reinvigorate navigation and make it resilient to provide significant benefits for years to come,” Pinkham said.
The Corps of Engineers started constructing Montgomery Locks and Dam in 1932 and finished in 1936. The auxiliary lock has reached the end of its operational lifespan and is experiencing structural aging.
Plans for a new chamber will bring new life to the facility thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which has provided more than $900 million in funds for construction on the Upper Ohio River.
“What makes this project critical is the potential for structural failure of the lock walls, which would cause major interruption to river transportation,” said Chris Dening, the project manager for the construction of the Upper Ohio project.
“Many of the walls have significant cracking along and across their lengths. We have observed leaking within the lock walls during operation, which confirmed the seriousness of the situation,” Dening said.
If one of the lock walls failed, it would impact operations for several months. An unexpected failure would cause industry shippers to react, scrambling to find new ways to reroute shipments at the last minute.
“The upgrades we are making at Montgomery Locks and Dam are just the first of three major investments to modernize the upper Ohio River navigation system,” said Steve Fritz, the Mega Project program manager for the Pittsburgh District.
“We are building larger, newer, better locks that will provide a resilient navigation system in the Pittsburgh region for the next 100 years,” he said.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided a significant boost to a much-needed infrastructure investment on the upper Ohio River.
In the meantime, the Pittsburgh District has taken several measures to address structural issues to avoid sudden failures. Pittsburgh’s engineers increased the frequency of their inspections at Montgomery and developed contingency plans for any potential emergency.
“However, those contingency efforts are costly, which is why we need to recapitalize the lock with a new construction,” Dening said.
The new locks construction will directly benefit commercial navigation by replacing older, smaller chambers, avoiding future bottlenecks and slowdowns, and saving costs to transportation industries.
“The river navigation system provides a cost-effective method for transporting bulk commodities. It is also environmentally friendly and reduces road congestion,” Dening said.
Transporting commodities on the waterways is four times less expensive than trucks and 33 percent cheaper than rail. Towboats on Pittsburgh’s rivers can push up to 15 barges at once, each carrying the same amount of material as 70 large semi-trucks or 16 rail cars.
The Upper Ohio Navigation project includes three locks: Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery, the first three on the Ohio River downstream from Pittsburgh.
The BIL provided $857 million for Montgomery construction and $77 million for Emsworth in 2022.
The 2022 funding places the Ohio River as the second-largest funded infrastructure project within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The BIL helps alleviate the problem of inconsistent funding experienced in the past several decades, which has caused major inflation in timeline and project costs in the past. For example, the district had received only $40 million combined in the five previous years for the Upper Ohio project.
Montgomery is the first facility to receive a larger 600-foot-long by 110-foot-wide lock chamber on the Upper Ohio system. District engineers plan to replace the smaller auxiliary chamber at all three facilities.
“[What] brings us here today is moving commerce from ships to shelves. This is just an incredible waterway that’s critically important to the economy of the entire United States of America,” Landrieu said.
The economic impact of a one-year closure at Montgomery Locks and Dam would cost the U.S. economy nearly $180 million. The roughly 12 million tons of cargo would require over 100,000 railcars or 400,000 trucks to compensate for the closure.
The BIL funded the district for about half of the required cost up front, allowing Pittsburgh to begin work at Montgomery as early as 2024, significantly speeding up the district’s timeline for construction.
The navigation system also plays a vital role in the developing of local industry. The cargo includes mainly coal, but industry also transports coke, petroleum products, raw and finished steel, and aggregates. Various companies use the system to transport large components for construction in the Pittsburgh region.
“Some of these components could not have been transported by other means due to their size,” Dening said.
The average age of the three Upper Ohio facilities is 96 years old, with aging conditions that could lead to major navigation shutdowns. The auxiliary chambers at the three facilities are the smallest on the Ohio River, causing bottlenecks and slowdowns during maintenance periods, proving too small for today’s commercial barges.
The Pittsburgh District has already completed project phases to prepare for the upcoming chamber construction. The plan includes removing the auxiliary chamber to expand the lock size, which will cut into the gated dam currently on the river.
The next phase will bring a batch plant on site, allowing engineers to mix and pour concrete in place much faster than cement trucks. The new lock at Montgomery will require about 400,000 cubic yards of concrete, equivalent to a football field covered nearly 200 feet high, or 1.6 billion pounds. The plant will produce nine different concrete mixes used in various types of construction, such as underwater, structural, and mass concrete, among others. An onsite laboratory will sample and test the concrete to ensure quality.
“It’s taken over a decade of dedicated effort from an interdisciplinary team to get us here today,” Melin said.
“This team has developed and delivered a solid plan that we are now ready to execute,” he said We’re lucky to have the same team moving forward to deliver a quality product that will sustain the navigation needs of this region.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, along with the Navajo County Board of Supervisors, signed the Little Colorado River at Winslow Flood-Risk Management Project Design Agreement July 11 at the Winslow Chamber of Commerce in Winslow, Arizona.
The signing ceremony marks the Corps’ initiation of pre-construction, engineering and design to reduce potential flood risk along the Little Colorado River in Winslow.
“This has been a long-awaited event, not only for the county, but for the city of Winslow,” said Alberto Peshlakai, chairman of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors. “The purpose of this project is to eliminate the flood zone, protect the Santa Fe transcontinental train line, recognize Navajo/Hopi relocatees, and, most importantly, improve public safety for the city of Winslow.”
About 5,000 people – families who live, work and call this area their home – along with critical infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, nursing homes and utilities, are located within a flood plain and are at the potential risk of flooding. The project area includes about 4.3 miles of flood-risk reduction levee and improvements located along the Little Colorado River near Winslow.
“The completion of this project will be a win for this community – not only by reducing the potential flood risk associated with the river, but also by creating stability, economic vitality and future growth for the area,” Balten said.
The Little Colorado River at Winslow Flood-Risk Management project received more than $65 million in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to fund the project to completion.
“The project is also very important to the nation,” Balten said. “Flooding also poses a threat to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Bridge over the Little Colorado River – a critical transcontinental corridor for transporting goods to and from the Midwest to the West Coast.”
Initial project work will focus on geotechnical and cultural updates, as well as refined hydraulic modeling.
“The Los Angeles District is dedicated to safely delivering quality projects on time to our Arizona partners and stakeholders,” Balten said.
The LA District supports the public and military in Arizona with a wide variety of projects and planning, engineering, construction and environmental services. Projects include flood-risk management, navigation, recreation, and infrastructure and environmental stewardship.
For more information about LA District’s programs and projects, visit www.spl.usace.army.mil.