LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – On Nov. 15, the Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District, wrapped up its Arkansas public workshops regarding proposed changes to lockage policies on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.
The corps held eight workshops in Little Rock, Russellville, Ozark, and Pine Bluff gathering comments from more than 100 Arkansas River users including bass anglers, commercial shippers, economic developers, pleasure boaters, local politicians and more.
“The workshops have been a great opportunity for us to speak with, and listen to, the variety of boaters and commercial users of this river, and we are thankful for their many comments, concerns and suggestions,” said the district’s Acting Chief of Navigation and Maintenance Section James McKinnie. “This information has been helpful to us in more fully understanding how people use the river, and is very important to us as we work to finalize the policy.”
The aim of the corps efforts is to have a resilient, reliable navigation system that meets the long term needs of users by reducing the number of gate cycles and increasing maintenance.
To achieve this goal the Little Rock District is looking to shift its efforts from operations to preventive maintenance at certain times.
“It’s similar to taking care of your car to ensure it lasts longer,” said the district’s Chief of Operations Division John Balgavy. “It you can’t afford a new car then you are going to change the fluids and filters more often. It’s the same with our aging facilities. We would rather focus on maintenance a few hours each day to avoid unscheduled breakdowns.”
The corps has already implemented a new daily preventive maintenance program at James W. Trimble Lock and Dam near Fort Smith, Ark., and Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam in Ozark, Ark. Since Oct. 1, these locks have closed for a four-hour period daily to allow personnel to perform maintenance. This is the first time the Little Rock District has instituted a daily, scheduled outage.
“We are now looking into the benefits of expanding our preventive maintenance program to the remainder of our Arkansas locks,” said Balgavy. “During the daily maintenance period, operators wouldn’t be locking boats or answering the phone and, as much as possible, setting the dam up so that no gate changes would be needed so that they could focus on maintenance for four hours.”
The corps proposed recreation lockage changes would also reduce the number of swings on lock gates at facilities with high recreational boating traffic, thus reducing the wear on the gates. Murray Lock and Dam in Little Rock, Ark., and David D. Terry Lock and Dam near Scott, Ark., fall into the higher-use category. The corps will ensure the policy limits impact on special scheduled events such as bass tournaments, flotillas, and civic celebrations.
“We recognize the importance of the system to both commercial and recreational traffic and want our policies to achieve the desired goal with minimal impact to users,” said Balgavy.
The Little Rock District plans on re-evaluating the system annually to see if any locks have increased to the higher-use or decreased to the lower-use categories and would seek public input before implementing or eliminating scheduled lockage windows at affected locations.
According to Balgavy, district employees have done a tremendous job despite declining budgets and aging facilities. The locks and dams on the river system are more than 40-years-old.
“Our personnel have done a great job of maintaining them over the years so that we’ve had very few unscheduled closures,” said Balgavy. “But over the past few years, we have witnessed a greater number of breakdowns. This daily time would allow us to focus on needed maintenance and increase the reliability of the system for all users.”
Over the next 45 days, the district will examine all the feedback it received from the public. The corps plans to finalize a policy by the end of the year and implement it in 2013. The public still has time to submit comments about the proposed policy through the end of November by emailing the Little Rock District at CESWL-OP-OM@usace.army.mil