Columbia River barge lock to return to service Sept. 30

Huge barges carrying wheat, wood and other goods will remain at a standstill for the rest of the month while workers repair a critical navigation lock at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the locks will reopen Sept. 30. The navigation lock was closed Sept. 5 after operators detected problems and further investigation revealed cracked concrete.

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.

The crack in the concrete sill was discovered after the lock was drained of water over the weekend. On Monday, emergency repair crews were working to demolish the faulty concrete section so repairs could begin. Work on the lock also will include drilling holes for rebar, forming the new sill structure and allowing time for the concrete to cure.

It’s not known what caused the damage.

The closure means that barges headed upstream can’t travel the Columbia River past the Bonneville Dam and those headed downriver toward the Pacific Ocean are stuck behind the Bonneville — effectively halting all river commerce in a vast swath of the Pacific Northwest from eastern Oregon and Washington to Idaho.

Eight million tons of cargo move 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 for which statistics are available, Meira said.

About $2 billion in commercial cargo travels the entire system annually, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 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)