Towboats await repair to New Cumberland lock

NEW CUMBERLAND — Commercial barge traffic on the Ohio River upstream and downstream of the New Cumberland Locks and Dam temporarily has stopped because of a spill in the main lock chamber.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, alerted commercial navigation companies that operations at the facility had halted after crews noticed a sheen inside the facility’s main chamber shortly before 10 a.m. Monday.

The lock staff determined the hydraulic system that operates the main chamber’s four 170-ton miter gates and the emptying and filling valves had failed.

“They had to determine whether (the spill) was coming from a vessel that was passing through or coming from our system,” said Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk.

The closure effectively stops navigation on the Ohio River upstream and downstream of the lock, creating a backlog of commercial vessels. As of midafternoon Tuesday, nine towboats and their barges were backed up in the queue.

“All barges trying to make their way up or down the river cannot do so right now because that lock is completely closed to navigation,” Hawk said.

The lock will be out of operation for at least the next few days while engineers and maintenance crews determine a temporary solution to bring the lock chamber back into service. A more long-term fix could be several months away.

The Corps immediately deployed spill response measures to mitigate the spill and halted operations of the lock’s hydraulic system.

The spill is mostly contained in the 110-by-1,200-foot primary lock chamber, although a small amount of hydraulic fluid did enter the waterway. Crews placed on-site spill containment booms on the river to absorb fluid that escaped from the chamber and to stop the spread of fluid.

The Pittsburgh District dispatched civil and environmental experts to investigate the spill and reported the situation to the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center, navigation interests and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which monitors water quality on the Ohio River.

The New Cumberland Locks and Dam is composed of two lock chambers — an auxiliary and a main chamber.

The Corps put the 110-by-600-foot auxiliary lock chamber out of service approximately two years ago due to structural issues that prevent its safe operation.

Crews continue to monitor the situation. No further spillage is expected due to the current shutdown of the hydraulic system and closure of the chamber.

Mariners are advised to monitor marine radio Channel 13 for information.

The Pittsburgh District’s 23 locks and dams on the upper Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers represent the oldest and largest network of navigation facilities in the Army Corps’ national inland marine transportation system.

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