ASHLAND CITY, Tenn. (May 24, 2021) – With the recent shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District opened up Cheatham Lock despite restrictions during scheduled maintenance so barges destined to fuel Middle Tennessee could navigate up the Cumberland River to Nashville terminals.
Officials with the Nashville District and Regional Rivers Repair Fleet, which is performing maintenance at Cheatham Lock, coordinated with Marathon Petroleum Corporation on site May 12 to gain an understanding of the industry’s critical need to move fuel via barges through the navigation lock to lessen the impact of the gas shortage. Additional communication took place with Exxon Mobile the same day to discuss their requirements.
Megan Simpson, Nashville District’s Technical Support Branch’s Maintenance Section chief, said the Corps of Engineers ultimately allowed 12 fuel barges carrying 1.5 million gallons of fuel to pass through Cheatham Lock May 13-17. Barges had to be split and guided by a helper boat due to a dewatering box that is anchored to the lock wall that makes it possible for the maintenance crew to work in dry conditions.
“The next week, the pipeline went back into operation, but additional barge deliveries would still be required to help make up for the shortage,” Simpson explained.
Cheatham Lock opened again May 21-23 and approximately 17 barges either passed upriver with fuel to Nashville or down river empty headed back to refineries in Texas. Another opening is scheduled to move gas barges through the lock June 4-6.
Simpson said that minimizing impacts to ongoing critical maintenance also guided the coordination efforts and scheduling to ensure the work is completed on schedule in preparation for repairs to the upper miter gates during a dewatering in 2022. The repair fleet is notching the lock walls that will hold stop logs that will be able to hold water out of the lock when needed.
Jake E. Menefee, Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s vice president of Government Affairs, sent a letter May 19 to Lt. Col. Sonny B. Avichal, Nashville District commander, noting how the decision to alter the Cheatham Lock maintenance schedule made it possible for Marathon and the broader gas industry to supply the market and avoid shortages.
“This experience is one of many where USACE lived its mission of delivering vital engineering solutions in collaboration with partners to secure our Nation, energize our economy, and reduce risk,” Menefee wrote. “Thank you for your consideration and continued support of our efforts to keep Tennessee fueled.”
Each barge holds around 28,000 barrels of fuel, so the team at Cheatham Lock is aware of how their efforts are helping to alleviate potential shortages at local gas pumps.
Lock Operator Michael J. Christianson said he assisted with 14 lockages during a recent 12-hour shift in support of the fuel deliveries, but he is glad to contribute and help people that need gas just to get to work every day.
“We’ve been terribly busy during the shortage,” Christianson said. “It’s definitely an excellent experience for me to be part of the transport of goods and especially fuel right now to Nashville.”
There were multiple teleconferences and discussions after the pipeline went offline to find solutions to move additional fuel capacities into Tennessee. Within 48 hours the Corps of Engineers had a plan to pass barges carrying 13 million gallons of fuel through the lock.
Lockmaster Bobby Holt said the entire team at Cheatham Lock is very proud of the collaboration to meet the challenge of supporting the industry’s needs while balancing the ongoing maintenance effort.
“That just proves to everybody what can happen when you work together as a team,” Holt said. “It shows how important Cheatham Lock is to the economy of not only Nashville itself, but all of Middle Tennessee.”
Holt said commodities like jet fuel, fuel for cars, and aggregate for construction, like concrete and sand, moves through Cheatham Lock and helps keep Nashville and the region booming.
Cheatham Lock is located at Cumberland River mile 148.6 in Cheatham County. It opened to navigation traffic in August 1951. Its chamber is 795-feet long and 110-feet wide. The lock releases more than 17 million gallons of water each time it is emptied.
(The public can obtain news, updates and information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District on the district’s website at www.lrn.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.)