AT THE BONNEVILLE DAM, Ore. (KOIN) — With a traffic jam of barges waiting on the Columbia River, work to fix the leaking lock at the Bonneville Dam is about halfway done.
The leaking lock affected the ability to move products that are critical to the economy of the US Northwest. At the bottom of the empty lock at the Bonneville Dam crews work to rebuild the seal that kept water from leaving when a ship inside was headed downriver.
“The water level wouldn’t stay constant,” said Kerry Solan with the US Army Corps of Engineers. “Demolition initially took days because the sill was an enormous piece of concrete. Ginormous.”
Before it was demolished, the sill was an arch 9-feet wide and 4-feet tall spanning the lock wall to wall. An excavator began tearing it apart when the leak was discovered in early September — and that leak brought river traffic to an unexpected halt.
The backup affects barges hauling items like garbage, petroleum products and wheat from Eastern Oregon and northern Idaho.
“This really shines a light to how important this river is to our economy,” said Kristin Meira, the executive director of the PNW Waterways Association. “We’re hearing from a lot of inland growers and inland terminals that they’re using every last bit of storage space, just waiting for this lock to come back online.”
But Jason Middleton, the regional manager for United Grain Corporation, said they “haven’t had to shut any farmer off that are still delivering harvest wheat. It is certainly better to happen now instead of July and August during harvest.”
US Coast Guard Port Security Specialist Jim Merten told KOIN 6 News they have vessels backed up on each side, up- and downriver.
“We’re looking to work with our industry partners to create an order or prioritizations on which vessel is going to go when the lock opens back up.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers said they’re still on track to meet its goal of reopening the repaired lock on September 30.
Follow KOIN 6 for the latest news and weather