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Restoring the Lower Snake River

Corps extends dam closure until May 1

nav lockElaine Williams of the Lewiston Morning Tribune
March 26, 2014

Shippers that rely on the Snake and Columbia river system to get their products from Lewiston to Portland were scrambling Tuesday after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced an extension of its annual maintenance outage at Little Goose Dam.

The dam's navigation lock will be closed, likely until May 1, so crews can repair a gudgeon, a metal arm at the top of the south gate leaf that hinges and holds the gate leaf to the lock wall.

Barging between Portland and Lewiston has been closed since March 1 for yearly repairs. Such repairs normally take about three weeks on the eight dams between the two cities. This year that work included extra testing to determine if cracks at Little Goose, discovered in a routine inspection on June 13, had worsened.

"Results obtained Monday evening indicated that cracks were propagating in the 50-year-old ... component of a depth and rate of growth that metal fracture might occur if the 334-ton gate leaf was put back into regular operation," according to a corps' news release.

That news wasn't entirely unexpected. The corps had ordered spare gudgeon assemblies for both gate leafs at the dam in September after the cracks were found. Contractors have accelerated the production of one, rescheduling machining and fitting tests so the parts can be delivered to the dam next week, according to the news release.

Little Goose is the second closest dam to Lewiston on the Snake and Columbia river system.

The timing of the announcement wasn't ideal and left shippers little time to prepare, said Port of Lewiston Manager David Doeringsfeld.

Port clients had containers loaded with dried peas and lentils anticipating the scheduled opening of the shipping channel on Saturday, Doeringsfeld said.

Now they'll have to decide if they can wait until May to move them or haul them by truck at an extra expense, Doeringsfeld said. "The customers are the ones out there right now making the determination about how they're impacted and what their options are."

The Port of Clarkston will also be affected. April marks the start of the season for overnight tour boats. The port had expected visits from the American Empress, Queen of the West and a third smaller vessel next month, said Clarkston port Manager Wanda Keefer.

The American Empress, with a capacity for 223 passengers, and Queen of the West, with a capacity for 142 passengers, are the largest boats on a route that extends from Clarkston to Astoria, Ore.

As inconvenient as the delay is, Doeringsfeld said he is glad the weakness in the lock was found without anyone getting injured and that the parts are already being made. "While this is difficult, it's much better than the alternatives."

This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the Port of Lewiston. It has been challenged by dwindling demand for its container service and questions about how committed Hanjin Shipping is to serving the Port of Portland.

Last fall, Hanjin, which handles more than 75 percent of the containers that go through Portland, announced it was discontinuing its service in January. Hanjin continued to call on Portland and this month said it would stay, but review the operation's performance on a quarterly basis.

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