Ice Harbor Dam and lock

The Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. An environmentalist-sponsored study claims taking out it and three other dams would be beneficial to the region’s economy.

All navigation locks at dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers will close for annual maintenance starting this Saturday, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the facilities.

The locks will close to barge and boat traffic at 6 a.m. March 2, according to the Corps.

Ice Harbor, McNary, John Day, The Dalles and Bonneville locks are scheduled to return to service at 11:59 p.m. March 17.

Lower Monumental, Lower Granite and Little Goose locks are scheduled to return to service at 11:59 p.m. March 24. The additional time is needed for non-routine work such as structural gate repairs, concrete repair and equipment repair or replacement, according to the Corps.

Grain companies that depend on barges to move wheat downstream to customers in Portland and overseas plan for the closures, said Randy Olstad, vice president of agronomy for Columbia Grain in Clarkston, Wash.

“We give everybody the heads-up what’s coming down the river and this timeline to make sure our locks are in good condition so it doesn’t disrupt any service during the rest of the year,” Oldstad said. “It’s something we just deal with.”

In an emergency, Olstad said, the company might take on the additional cost of using rail or trucks instead of barges.

“We’re loading grain barges every week of the year, so we’ve planned on what we’re going to be selling and moving,” said Damon Filan, manager of Tri-Cities Grain and industry representative on the Washington Grain Commission board. “We know when the river opens back up we’ll be busy again in March and April.”

Filan’s company loads one or two barges four or five days before the closure ends, or earlier if the elevator space is needed.

“Then they’re ready to go,” he said. “When the river opens back up, they’ll be some of the first barges back down to the export terminals.”

Filan’s company schedules its maintenance for the closure, while business continues as usual.

The annual closure is important, Filan and Olstad said, because it gives the Corps a chance to make repairs to keep it in operation for another 12 months.

“Anything that’s got a moving part to it, you’ve got to make sure it’s up to snuff,” Olstad said. “If we didn’t have something like this, it goes back to Murphy’s Law — it’s only going to break when you need it the most. That costs everybody a lot of money, because it becomes a surprise, not a plan.”

The Ice Harbor Dam navigation lock was briefly closed Feb 23-27 for unscheduled repairs. It reopened in limited service after crews addressed alignment issues with the downstream gate hoist machinery.

“They repaired a broken grease line, they did some ice removal, they remedied some mechanical binding that was occurring in the machinery and they lubricated everything,” said Gina Baltrusch, spokeswoman for the Walla Walla District of the Corps.

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