Broken Columbia River barge lock means commerce chokehold

A critical navigation lock at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River has shut down because of cracked concrete, meaning huge barges that transport millions of tons of wheat, wood and other goods from the inland Pacific Northwest to the Pacific Ocean for export are at a standstill.

The closure comes at the peak of wheat harvest and could be devastating for farmers who ship to Asia via barges that fill up at more than two dozen grain elevators along the river network as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho.

Many of those barges are now stranded above the dam, unable to reach deep water export terminals on the Pacific Ocean.

The crack in the concrete sill was discovered late last week and the lock was drained of all water over the weekend. On Monday, crews were working to demolish the faulty concrete section so repairs could begin. Its unclear when the repairs would be done.

Eight million tons of cargo move inland on the Columbia and Snake rivers each year and 53% of U.S. wheat exports were transported on the Columbia River in 2017, the latest year statistics were available.

About $2 billion in commercial cargo travels the entire system annually, and it’s the No. 1 export gate in the U.S. for wheat and barley and the No. 2 export gate for corn. (AP)

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