The navigation lock at the Lower Monumental Dam on the Snake River will be closed during daylight hours for emergency repairs to a floating guidewall, but wheat industry representatives say they expect only minor delays as they ship this year's harvest to ports downstream.
Currently, a tugboat is holding the floating guidewall in place to prevent it from breaking loose and causing damage to the dam, according to the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association.
The navigation lock will be closed 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Aug. 31 to Sept. 16.
"Delays appear at this point to potentially be a matter of hours," said Dan Hart, general manager of the Almota Elevator Co., in Colfax, Wash. "As far as curtailing shipping, we don't expect any effect from it."
Hart said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will alert carriers on the days they might be able to open early.
The closure comes at a time when some Washington farmers are seeing an exceptionally big harvest.
"This one is really big, and we weren't expecting it," Hart said. "There is a major yield bump, and for some folks it's an all-timer."
As a result, some elevators will push wheat into storage that hasn't been used in years, Hart said.
The closure "comes at a challenging time, in the middle of the harvest. But we will always meet our commitments downriver (and) upriver," said Jennifer Riddle, senior marketing and communications specialist for Tidewater Barge Lines.
In some instances, Tidewater has been able to help provide short-term storage barges for some elevators "in a pinch," Riddle said.
August and September are typically the busiest times of the year for grain traffic on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
At 153 million bushels, Washington's harvest is about 10 million bushels more than last year, said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.
But Squires doesn't consider it a bumper crop for the whole state. It's actually the 10th largest harvest since 1978.
"So it's high, but there have been nine other years that have been higher," Squires said.
Idaho's harvest of 104 million bushels would be the 8th largest since 1978. Oregon's harvest, at 43 million bushels, would be 38th largest since 1978 due to moisture concerns.
Squires doesn't expect the closure to affect deliveries to overseas customers.
Squires praised the Corps for their transparency and swift work to make repairs.
"We appreciate the fact they're able to keep it open half the time," he said. "Barges will still be able to transit the lock."
Maintaining night movement through the lock hinges on no further problems, Hart said.
"You know, the Corps — they know what they're doing," he said. "We're pretty confident in them."