PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh District added horizontal safety buoys to two locks and dams locations, one on the Ohio and one on the Allegheny River, to increase visibility and warn boaters away from the dams.
“The last thing we want is to have any type of casualty or fatality out here. We're doing it because we want to make sure this is a safe environment. We take a lot of steps and a lot of measures to ensure that we're putting people first, and we're thinking about their safety,” said Maj. William Yount, a project engineer officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District.
The district added buoys to Lock and Dam 2 on the Allegheny and to Dashields on the Ohio, stretching horizontally across the water.
Both locations use submerged dams, also known as fixed crest dams, which are hard to see from upstream.
Submerged dams allow water to flow overtop freely, giving them a waterfall effect, unlike large gated dams. From downstream, the water drop is visible, but from upstream, the crest is difficult to see, said Yount.
“Without these safety measures, you can’t see the drop. You can only see a horizon of water,” said Beth Schneller, chief of technical support branch for operations for the Pittsburgh District.
Schneller and others from the district had been planning these installations for more than two years. The first two installs are part of a pilot project. The district will consider installing more horizontal buoys at other locations once they know the system works as well as planned.
“We’ve never installed a boom system across a river like this,” Schneller said. “It’s just exciting for us to finally see these in place because it’s been two-plus years of research to figure out, brainstorming, researching what can we do differently than huge waterway signs,” Schneller said.
Schneller said they considered 20-foot signs, but they would have cost several millions of dollars more and still be less effective than buoys.
“A lot of times, people on the river are enjoying themselves. They’re not necessarily paying attention, and a sign requires you to pay attention. It requires you to notice it,” Yount said.
All locks and dams already have warning signs and mooring buoys in place, but these horizontal buoys are designed to stretch across the river, making them easier to notice. The mooring buoys are scattered and float vertically, each attached to multiple 10-ton concrete anchor blocks.
The various buoys float 300 to 1,000 feet away from the dam. The new horizontal buoys connect across the vertical ones.
“You’re going to run into them if you don’t pay attention,” Yount said.
By design, the horizontal buoys won’t stop a boat. They have a locking and rope system that will unlatch from one end at a 75-pound breakpoint. Without this safety measure, logs might otherwise destroy the horizontal buoys. They are also not designed to stay through the winter because ice float might carry them away.
At the end of each summer, the district will take the horizontal buoys out of the water and reinstall them in the spring. The mooring buoys and signs will stay, which can handle the beating of a large ice chunks, Yount said.
Yount, who has deployed and served in the U.S. Army for 19 years including overseas to places like Afghanistan and El Salvador, said he takes joy in serving people and communities back home.
“I live here in Pittsbugh. I love this city, and being able to work for the Corps to really make it a safer place and make its waterways navigable not only for commerce but also to enjoy the beautiful views we have down here … that’s something I really feel appreciative and grateful to do,” said Yount.