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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
St. Paul District
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St. Paul, MN 55101
Phone: (651) 290-5807
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Periodic Inspections keep infrastructure working

Published Nov. 1, 2012
MINNESOTA CITY, Minn.—Nate Van Loon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, diver, conducts periodic inspections at Lock and Dam No. 5 on the Mississippi River near Minnesota City, Minn., Sept. 18. The Corps’ divers work in very low visibility and feel their way around the entire structure. The inspections are a part of the Corps’ effort to maintain the 9-foot navigation channel at the 13 locks and dams within the district’s boundaries. Keeping this system open is vital to the nation’s economy.  In 2010, 16.2 million tons of commodities were shipped on the Mississippi River within the St Paul District’s area of operation, including 8 million tons of grain grown in the Upper Midwest. The industries making these shipments saved nearly $384 million by using the inland waterways instead of overland shipping methods.

MINNESOTA CITY, Minn.—Nate Van Loon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, diver, conducts periodic inspections at Lock and Dam No. 5 on the Mississippi River near Minnesota City, Minn., Sept. 18. The Corps’ divers work in very low visibility and feel their way around the entire structure. The inspections are a part of the Corps’ effort to maintain the 9-foot navigation channel at the 13 locks and dams within the district’s boundaries. Keeping this system open is vital to the nation’s economy. In 2010, 16.2 million tons of commodities were shipped on the Mississippi River within the St Paul District’s area of operation, including 8 million tons of grain grown in the Upper Midwest. The industries making these shipments saved nearly $384 million by using the inland waterways instead of overland shipping methods.

The district’s water control structures, such as the 13 locks and dams on the Mississippi River, undergo a number of site-specific inspections and assessments.

The inspections ensure the structures are safe and reliable for the navigation industry. After all of the inspections and assessments are completed, a periodic inspection report is created. The district completed seven inspection reports on locks and dams and reservoirs this year.

A multidisciplinary team, led by a professional engineer, performs the periodic inspection every five years. During the inspections, the team reviews all other site-specific inspections and assessments conducted during the past five years. Some of these include the hydraulic steel structure, bridge and dive inspections, surveys, operational condition assessment and more. These inspections and assessments are used by the periodic inspection team, in conjunction with their own inspection, to make recommendations for future analysis or repairs required at the site. The recommendations are then prioritized for budgeting.     

 In simplest terms, the periodic inspection is an engineering inspection of the site to ensure structural and geotechnical stability, safety and operational adequacy. The periodic inspection team members stay on site until the condition of each feature is documented and recommendations are made and prioritized by the entire team. The inspections at locks and dams are led by a structural engineer, and reservoir sites are led by a geotechnical engineer. 

To consolidate the inspection efforts, the district conducts a periodic inspections and operational condition assessments concurrently because both the inspections and assessments often include the same personnel. It is a consistent, repeatable, transparent and cost effective process to identify and prioritize operations and maintenance needs at each site. The assessment results are applied to the Corps’ asset management program as well being included in the periodic inspection report as a supplementary report. 

The asset management program is a comprehensive approach to the management of the Corps’ assets, which, in turn is used to develop a risk-informed planning, budgeting and execution strategy.

“Two years ago, the St. Paul District was charged with performing an operation condition assessment,” said Lisa Lund, lock and dam civil engineer and lock and dam assessment team lead. “We decided to do both the periodic and operational condition assessment at the same time, because both looked at the same features.”

The inspection isn’t performed in isolation but with input from those who work at the facility day-in and day-out.

“ key feature of the periodic inspection is that we do it in conjunction with the operations staff,” described Adele Braun, a structural engineer who led the recent inspection at Lock and Dam 5A. “It’s important because the lock and dam staff is here on a day-to-day basis, and they tell us some of the items that may need to be corrected that we could potentially overlook during the inspection.”

In the two years since starting this approach the district has completed 10 joint inspections. The result is seen in savings in both time and cost.