For the past few months, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District lock workers on the Allegheny River have been fighting the elements to keep the locks operational as the region endured severe freezing temperatures.
One part of maintaining navigation on the rivers is to operate the lock gates to ensure ice doesn’t build up causing the gates to cease functioning. Recently, district workers were at Lock 5 to prevent the build up and ensure the lock gates remain operational.
“The main objective is to keep this lock operational and to hold up our end of the bargain for navigation and industry, so the lock is operational when they need it,” said Nick Waltenbaugh, Allegheny River lockmaster. “Once they [the lock gates] freeze in solid, it would be a very, very big challenge to get them open again.”
He added that the facilities up river from Lock 5 don’t have the resources necessary to break up and move the ice.
One of the largest challenges facing the Allegheny River is that Locks 6 through 9 are not currently staffed, so lock workers have to travel to each facility to ensure the locks remain functional.
“It is a tough job,” Dominic Basile, Allegheny River Lock and Dam 5 equipment mechanic leader, said. “Normally five out of 10 times there is only one guy here because the mechanic and I are upstream working on [locks] six, seven, eight and nine.”
He added, “It is very critical to keep these approaches clear like this because if the gates cannot move, and it doesn’t take very much ice to hold them back, then you cannot operate this lock.”
According to Basile, the Lock 5 approach has been frozen for approximately one month while the approaches at Locks 6 through 9 have been frozen for three months.
“We are seeing an inch and a half to two inches of ice being made at this project overnight,” Waltenbaugh said. “When it gets cold like this, it can take an entire shift to get the gates cleared.”
Clearing the ice and keeping the locks functional is a constant fight.
“It’s not that difficult to do , you just have to be out here doing it. If you keep up on it, it is a simple process as long as the equipment and machinery are cooperating,” Basile said.
Although freezing weather conditions are some of the most difficult lock workers see, they are not unique to the Allegheny River. Most of the locks and dams in the Pittsburgh District faced the same daunting task of keeping the locks operational for navigation during the winter months.
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