GRAND RIVERS, Ky. (May 19, 2023) – The Ohio River Basin Inspection Tour visited western Kentucky this week where stakeholders of the basin highlighted healthy and productive ecosystems, reliable flood risk management, and resilience of the Ohio River waterway system for inland navigation. They also navigated to the Kentucky Lock Addition Project for a construction update and better understanding of how the larger lock will help unlock congested commercial barge traffic.
ORBIT is hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. The tour makes it possible for members of the Ohio River Basin Alliance to meet and address strategic plans, present overviews and updates, and tour an area of interest in the basin.
They met for discussions May 16-17, 2023, at the Lakeland Event Center in Calvert City, Kentucky, and participated in a site visit the afternoon May 16 to walk and talk and learn about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District’s ongoing project to construct a 1,200-foot by 110-foot navigation lock on the Tennessee River. The Kentucky Lock Addition Project is about 22 miles from where the river flows into the lower Ohio River.
Kevin Jasper, Nashville District’s Integrated Project Office interim chief, briefed the group on the status of the project and explained how the existing lock is too small to meet current and future traffic demands without significant delays. He explained that the Corps of Engineers has remained resilient through inflationary impacts, labor increases, and supply chain issues to keep the project moving forward.
“We anticipate the new lock chamber to be operational in 2029-2030 and the overall project to be completed in the 2031 timeframe,” Jasper said.
More than 26 million tons of commercial cargo and goods valued at more than $10 billion pass through Kentucky Lock annually. The average delay for commercial tows through the 600-foot active navigation lock exceeds 10 hours, some of the longest delay times in the system. Tows that are greater than 600-feet have to perform a time-consuming double lockage, which contributes to the lengthy delays. While the old lock can hold nine barges, the new lock will accommodate 15 barges.
The contractor, Thalle Construction, is constructing the $380 million downstream lock monoliths. This contract is cost shared 65% by the federal government and 35% by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which generates its revenues from a 29-cents tax on marine diesel fuel. This work is estimated for completion in May 2027. Future work at the lock includes installation of the approach walls, electrical and mechanical work, building construction, bridge construction, movement of utilities, and site development.
Martin Hettel, vice president of Government Affairs at American Commercial Barge Lines and member of the Inland Waterways Users Board and Ohio River Basin Alliance, toured the construction site and emphasized that navigation within the Ohio River Basin is an important aspect this group is interested in. He said moving goods on the waterways is environmentally friendly and helps drive the economy by delivering large amounts of commodities throughout the region and beyond.
“Well, there’s no doubt that our inland waterway transportation, as efficient and reliable as it is, is important to the Ohio River Basin,” Hettel said. “We move probably about 160 million tons of commodities in the Ohio River Basin alone. And as we heard today, one 15-barge tow replaces 1,050 (18-wheel) trucks off the highway.”
Hettel said one ton of freight can be moved 675 miles with one gallon of fuel, so the movement of commodities along the waterways also reduces emissions from other modes of transportation.
The Kentucky Lock Addition Project construction team led by Resident Engineer Jeremiah Manning showcased the mega construction project to ORBIT participants. They acted as tour guides, but also helped draw attention to aging infrastructure and the investment America is making to maintain and improve the Inland Waterway System while reducing the delays experienced at Kentucky Lock.
Brig. Gen. Kimberly Peeples, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division commanding general, said the Ohio River Basin Tour is about bringing together stakeholders from a broad range of interests, to be inclusive and diverse for open and transparent dialogue about the challenges and opportunities for the basin and sub-basins.
“I’m very proud of our team and the role the Corps of Engineers has in enabling navigation,” Peeples said. “I think something that we’re required to do is share our skills and our responsibilities with a broad network. The (ORBA) group that is assembled here are professionals and experts in their field, so they are bringing different diverse perspectives and insight from their organizations and their life experiences.”
Back at the Lakeland Event Center, these stakeholders focused on the needs of the Ohio River Basin. They received updates from Craig Butler, ORBA chairperson and executive director of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and from ORBA working group representatives on transportation and commerce, clean and abundant water, healthy and productive ecosystems, reliable flood risk management, knowledge to inform decisions, and nature-based recreation opportunities in the basin.
They also received presentations on the Environmental Restoration Initiative from Richard Harrison with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, Sustainable Rivers Program update from Brandon Brummett with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, Invasive Carp Management update from Project Manager Travis Wiley with Nashville District, and hydropower operations and rehabilitation efforts in the region from James Everett with Tennessee Valley Authority, Virgil Hobbs with Southeastern Power Administration, and Loren McDonald with Nashville District.
Harrison spoke about the development of the Ohio River Basin Ecosystem Restoration Plan, an ORBA initiative that has been in the making for more than a decade. The Ecosystem Restoration Initiative will offer a shared vision for all basin stakeholders on what is needed to protect and restore critical environmental resources. This shared vision will provide a platform for legislative and financial support for the basin with help from partners.
He said its final draft is expected to be completed by the summer of 2023 and aspects of the plan related to emerging toxic substances, invasive species, nonpoint source pollution impacts, habitat loss, and native species protection would likely be included in any future legislation.
Constituents from the Kentucky Division of Water, Southeastern Power Administration, Jackson Purchase Foundation and Four Rivers Basin, National Weather Service, Miami Conservancy District, Ohio River Basin Consortium for Research and Education, MS Consultants, American Commercial Barge Lines, The Nature Conservancy, Maritime Administration, National Wildlife Federation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, USACE, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Office, and ORBA also took part in facilitated discussions and a plenary session.
Matt Shanks, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division Planning Division chief, said ORBIT seeks to bring stakeholders of the basin together to identify challenges and opportunities to the basin, raise awareness of organizational initiatives, and strengthen the network of stakeholders throughout the basin.
Shanks explained that the vision of ORBIT involves building an aligned and collaborative Ohio River Basin stakeholder network to find solutions for the toughest water resource challenges.
“ORBIT 2023 exceeded expectations by engaging a wide range of stakeholders from federal, state, local and industry perspectives on emerging issues and opportunities for inland navigation, environmental restoration, and hydropower,” Shanks said.
Participants collaborated and engaged in robust discussions to address hot topics across the basin, something that did not go unnoticed by the director of ORBA.
“We make a real difference. Whether people recognize it or not, or they appreciate it or not, the work that is done by all of the collective agencies – state, federal and local – you make a difference in the lives of people in this region,” said Butler. “And it makes it one of the best places in the world to actually live and grow up and raise your kids.”
In culminating this ORBIT session, Joe Savage, programs director for the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, noted that the division has more lakes, flood risk management projects, and more navigation structures than any other division in the Corps of Engineers. The division has an interest in leveraging relationships, collaborating with stakeholders and addressing common interests and water resource challenges in the Ohio River Basin together as partners, he said.
Savage said the development of the ecosystem restoration plan is an important initiative for the basin and will result in generational impacts for the basin well into the future.
Savage noted that Richard Harrison had said this about the plan, “Once it comes into fruition, it would be something our grandchildren would be working on.”
“That’s really rather profound. And it’s very audacious for us to consider introducing a concept that would receive Congressional legislation. It would result in authorization and funding that would be a multi-generational approach to solving some of these challenges,” Savage added.
For more information about the Ohio River Basin Alliance, go to https://www.orsanco.org/ohio-river-basin-alliance-orba/.
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. Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest Nashville District employment and contracting opportunities at https://www.linkedin.com/company/u-s-army-corps-of-engineers-nashville-district.