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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2006
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Main Wilson lock open; auxiliary closed indefinitely
Official says 'worst is over' amid repairs

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

Four months and two days after a barge damaged the main lock at Wilson Dam, it reopened for business Tuesday.

The auxiliary lock will remain closed for repairs indefinitely, said Jim Davis, chief of operations for the Middle Tennessee River Region for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"The worst is over," Davis said.

The Corps briefly opened the unfinished lock at Wilson Dam near Florence, about 45 miles downstream from Decatur, last weekend to clear a backlog of barges. They closed it again until Tuesday so they could complete repairs. As of Tuesday morning, only two tows — bound for BP Decatur — waited downstream to go through the lock, with another two tows carrying empties waiting upstream of the lock.

Decatur, which has the busiest ports on the Tennessee River, was hardest hit by the closure. Many riverfront industries depend on barges for their raw materials and supplies. The harm was less severe than it could have been because BP, Solutia and other industries had increased their inventory of raw materials in anticipation of the hurricane season before the main lock went down.

Economic impact

The Morgan County Economic Development Association is in the midst of a study to determine the economic impact of the lock problems on Morgan County industry.

For much of the time the main lock was out of service and the auxiliary lock was the sole means for passing through. The main lock can handle nine barges per hour. The auxiliary lock could handle only one barge per hour.

The Corps spent Monday and part of Tuesday resetting and recalibrating the repaired upstream gate, which weighs 210 tons, and installing safety features.

No estimate

Davis said he has no estimate on how much the repairs cost. The Corps previously said that when the number is compiled, it plans to seek reimbursement from Maryland Marine Inc., which damaged the lock Aug. 3.

Bill for repair

Maryland Marine also will get the bill for the repair of the auxiliary lock, which it knocked out of service Nov. 28.

In both accidents, Maryland Marine tows were handling barges bound for BP Decatur.

The main lock is 110 feet by 600 feet and can change the water level up to 100 feet.

The lock consists of a chamber and two watertight gates. The steel gates drop below the water to allow barges into the chamber, then lifts back up behind them. A lock gear then floods or empties the chamber to increase or decrease the water level.

The Corps used a crane to lift the damaged gate and set it on a barge. The barge took it across the river, where Tennessee Valley Authority crews performed the repairs, and then returned it for installation.

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