Freezing temperatures, tight timelines and heavy equipment are just another day at the office for the district’s maintenance and repair section based out of the Fountain City, Wis., service base.
The team is currently working on the Lock and Dam 8 dewatering project. The lock, located near Genoa, Wis., is getting a facelift this winter as the team makes repairs to the concrete, lock gates and bubbler systems.
Jim Rand, Lock and Dam 8 lockmaster, said the winter maintenance occurs at each lock approximately every 20 years. “This is mission critical maintenance that normally wouldn’t be done at a typical lock site like [the Corps of Engineers] has down river,” he said. “They are not afforded the ability to stop navigation for three months.”
Scott Uhl, maintenance and repair section supervisor, said the district has the unique advantage to perform the maintenance during the winter when the navigation season is already closed due to the frozen Mississippi River. He added that with 13 locks in the district, the team performs a winter dewatering nearly every year.
Joe Schroetter, project manager for the dewatering, said the maintenance is a lot like the annual maintenance you perform on your car. “This maintenance is extremely important to ensuring the lock is in working condition once the navigation season arrives.”
The maintenance this year is similar to previous dewaterings, but Uhl said there are always challenges. He said the two biggest concerns are the construction unknowns under the water and the weather. “Above the water line, we have a real good idea of what we are going to run into. Below the water line, we are relying on our divers’ inspections to tell us what we are going to see.”
The weather can be a big challenge to the team, too. “Snow doesn’t hurt so bad,” said Uhl, “but the brutal cold does hinder the job.” Cold weather has been a standard this winter with temperatures dropping into the negative 20s on more than once occasion. Uhl said brutal cold is anything below zero. At these temperatures, the team has difficulties getting diesel equipment started and the work pace slows due to the need to wear additional cold weather clothing.
Despite the cold temps, the team has found a few advantages with the weather. Uhl said single digit temps at night and teens during the day are creating optimal conditions for sandblasting and painting the lock gates. He said this weather typically creates low moisture in the air, and it allows the steel to stay clean and rust free.
The team will continue working through the winter to meet the March 10 deadline. With much of the concrete demolition completed as a result of a hydro demolition contract, Schroetter said the team is on pace to complete the remaining concrete work, as well as the remaining maintenance items, in time for the 2014 navigation season.
Rand said he is looking forward to the end of the dewatering maintenance and is looking forward to new season. “There will be no question after this job is done that we will be ready to go for the next 20 years,” he said.