Barge Shipping
2:00 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Emergency repair at Lock 27 has barge traffic at a standstill

Updated 1:45 p.m. Lock 27 reopened this morning at 3:30 a.m. after being closed for 5 days. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it may take up to 72 hours to push through the  63 vessels and 455 barges, some from as far as New Orleans, that backed up during the closure. The Corps estimated that the closure cost nearly $3 million per day . Lock 27 underwent major rehab in the past few years and was damaged due to low water levels.

Our original story:

A structural failure at Lock 27, which is located near Granite City, is causing major shipping problems today on the Mississippi River. 

Currently there are more than 280 barges at a standstill holding the equivalent of 16,000 semi-trucks worth of cargo.  

A barrier called a protection cell that’s used to keep barges from bumping into the lock itself has ruptured, spilling rocks into the waterway and blocking shipping lanes.   

Army Corps of Engineers Spokesman Mike Peterson said it could take 24 hours or more for the problem to be fixed.

“The damage at Lock 27 is to a protection cell, which is not part of the structure of the lock itself,” Peterson said. “However, the damage resulted in rocks spilling out into the waterway and blocking the approach to both of the chambers of the lock.   So, we need to get in there and remove that rock so that we can allow barge traffic to get moving again.”

Lock 27 is the busiest on the Mississippi River, and Peterson said it costs the larger economy around $2.4 million each day it’s closed.

Coast Guard spokesman Colin Fogarty said a narrow shipping lane brought on by the drought is an added headache.

“The river is actually less wide and less deep, and as a result there’s less room for these 42 vessels and 284 barges to push up,” Fogarty said.

Fogarty said there’s no imminent threat to public safety, but says they’re especially concerned about what’s in some barges.  Citing national security concerns, Fogarty couldn’t say what the specific cargo of concern is.

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