Bonneville navigation locks closed Sept. 5, and will not reopen until the end of the month, but Mid-Columbia wheat farmers were not impacted.
“We got lucky,” said Jeff Kaser, general manager of Mid-Columbia Producers, based in Moro. “A month or two ago, that would have been catastrophic.”
Kaser said during July and August of this year, roughly 30 barges of wheat were shipped down the Columbia.
Had the lock closed during the height of harvest, wheat storage would have been inadequate. “We would have run out of room to dump wheat,” he explained.
No shipments were scheduled for shipment at the time the locks closed.
He said harvest is still underway in some areas of the Mid-Columbia, but there is adequate storage in place in those areas.
The Bonneville navigation lock are closed for emergency repair and will return to service, allowing vessels to pass through the lock, beginning 10 a.m. Sept. 30, according to officials at the Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The lock closed Sept. 5 after lock operators detected problems with the lock during operation.
Engineers “dewatered” the lock Sept. 6, performed an inspection and discovered that the downstream concrete sill, a structure against which lock gates create a water-tight seal, had cracks.
“It’s important to recognize the patience from our Columbia River users, who depend on this critical piece of infrastructure to run their businesses,” said Portland District Commander Col. Aaron Dorf. “This lock closure is significant, which is why our engineers, experts and contractors are working to ensure we get the locks back in service as quickly as possible. It is not lost on anyone in the Portland District that this outage has tremendous impacts to Columbia River users,” he said. “Between now and Sept. 30, our teams will be working around the clock to construct the new sill to restore Columbia River traffic.”
According to the Portland District engineering team, the damage they observed was unusual, and the annual inspections of the dam, last performed January 2017, did not reveal any abnormalities.
Portland District awarded the emergency repair contract to Advanced American Construction, based in Portland, and crews began demolition and removal of the concrete sill, which measures approximately 5 ft. tall, 9 1/2 ft. wide and about 100 ft. long.
Work on the lock will include demolition, drilling holes for rebar, forming the new sill structure and allowing time for the concrete to cure.
For the duration of the repairs, the Bradford Island Visitor Center, as well as recreation areas on Bradford and Robins islands (Oregon side), will remain closed.
The fish hatchery at Bonneville is unaffected by the navigation lock and is open to visitors; officials encourage visitors to be aware of construction traffic while driving through the Bonneville Dam project area. The Corps’ Washington Shore Visitor Complex is also open, and features interactive exhibits, powerhouse tours and fish viewing.