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Ohio River traffic running smoothly after lock closure

By LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

Navigation is running smoothly after Lock and Dam 52 was closed last week in response to a pinned towing vessel.

The closure of a four-mile stretch of the lower Ohio River near Brookport, Illinois, stalled about 20 vessels at its peak -- 10 bound upstream, and 10 headed downstream -- before the Coast Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were able to reopen the area on April 8, USACE Public Affairs Specialist Carol Labashosky said.

"They were waiting for three, four days," she said, adding that no injuries have been reported. "I wouldn't call it a major inconvenience."

The river closures halted grain barges from a large portion of the Midwest farm belt to Gulf Coast export terminals, which handle about 60 percent of U.S. corn, soybean and wheat export shipments, according to a report from Reuters.

The news agency reported that corn costs at the Gulf rose by about 2 to 3 cents per bushel, in part due to the slowed flow of grain.

The incident occurred April 5, when towing vessel Mike A. Nadicksbernd struck Lock and Dam 52, pinning the vessel to the lock wall. The vessel, which was pushing 19 empty barges and one loaded with steel rods, began taking on water in the engine room, according to a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District Heartland.

Although it had about 4,700 gallons of diesel on board, no pollution was reported.

The Coast Guard and Corps worked together to salvage the vessel, and the river was open to navigation around 10 a.m. Saturday, April 8, Labashosky said. The Coast Guard completed its response to the incident Monday. The vessel was taken to dry dock to undergo repairs. About five gallons of diesel were released during the dry-docking procedure, and was recovered by SWS Environmental Services, the Coast Guard reported.

Debra Calhoun, senior vice president of Waterways Council Inc., said there has been a 700 percent increase in unscheduled or emergency lock outages for repairs "compared to just a few years ago."

"Olmsted will replace Locks 52 and 53, and has turned a corner and is expected to (have that work completed) three years ahead of schedule, likely operational in 2020," she said.

More than 80 million tons of grain, coal, fuel and other goods move through Lock and Dam 52 each year, according to a November article in the New York Times, which cited it as the most-used lock and dam on the inland navigation system.

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