July 31, 2008

Emsworth Locks & Dam to Get $34 Million Upgrade

By Mike Cronin, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 31--Work is expected to start in the next few weeks on repairs and upgrades to the main channel section of the Emsworth Locks & Dam on the Ohio River, the Army Corps of Engineers said Wednesday.

The corps has awarded a $34.4 million contract to Joseph B. Fay Co. of Tarentum to replace seven vertical-lift gates and install hydraulic systems in the main channel structure between Emsworth and the north side of Neville Island, said Mike Rattay, the project's manager.

"Right now, that machinery consists of 1930s equipment," Rattay said.

If the federal government awards the corps more money in 2009 and 2010, an additional $19.7 million in work could be done, Rattay said. The renovations are scheduled to be completed in 2011.

There are plans to rehabilitate the back channel dam between Neville and Stowe beginning in 2010 if the federal government provides money, Rattay said. That would cost between $25 million and $50 million.

Repairing the Emsworth system is one necessary step in upgrading the deteriorating, decades-old locks and dam system that spans 24.1 miles on the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, says James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

About 24 million tons of commodities travel through those locks and dams annually, Rattay said.

This month, McCarville said safe navigation of the region's rivers provides 200,000 jobs and $10 billion in wages to Western Pennsylvania.

The health of locks and dams is crucial to area companies that ship coal and oil on local rivers.

A failure of any dam like the two in Emsworth -- both of which the Corps of Engineers identified as "critically near failure" -- could prevent businesses such as Consol Energy and Koppers from delivering products to their customers by water, company officials said.

"We'd incur additional expense to ship by rail and truck," said Michael W. Snyder, Koppers spokesman. "I suppose, ultimately, the increase in prices could be passed on to individuals over time."

Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps, said it was possible that people could face higher electricity bills as power plants pay more for that coal and other supplies.

Joe Cerenzia, a Consol spokesman, added, "It's imperative that we be able to provide reliable service to our customers. Consol Energy has long been in favor of improvements to the region's locks and dams."

A corps report released July 3 listed the "catastrophic consequences" that would result due to the failure of either one of the Emsworth dams. It concluded that 11,700 jobs would be at risk and $2 million of wages would be lost each day.

Workers built both dams in 1919 and modernized them in the 1930s.


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