The district’s 2012 navigation season began March 17 with the arrival of Motor Vessel Deana Ann.
The Paducah, Ky., based tow entered Lock and Dam 2, near Hastings, Minn., around 3 p.m., with seven barges. The tow’s final destination was St. Paul, Minn.
The district considers navigation season open when the first tow that started south of the district’s boundaries reaches Pool 2. The Motor Vessel John M. Rivers was the first tow of the season last year. It arrived March 31, 2011.
While the season began a few weeks earlier than normal this year, the district’s navigation professionals are up to the challenge. Mike DeRusha, lockmaster for both Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls Locks and Dams in Minneapolis, said, “The task facing all of us is how to do more with less and continue the high level of service the public expects.” This will be DeRusha’s first season as the lockmaster in Minneapolis. He served as the Lock and Dam 2 lockmaster last year. Brian Gray replaced DeRusha at the lock this year.
DeRusha, along with the new Lock and Dam 1 Lockmaster Tim Tabery, operate the three Minneapolis locks and dams. Tabery, who served as the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam lockmaster last year, said the Lock and Dam 1 team has a vast degree of knowledge on the navigation industry, and they are ready for the challenge. “[We can] accomplish anything we set our minds to,” he said.
This year, one of the key topics for the employees at the three Minneapolis locks and dams will be dealing with invasive species such as Asian carp. These locks have been discussed recently as potential areas for placing fish barriers to prevent the nuisance species from migrating farther north. Tabery said it’s important to let the staff know what’s being discussed. “I believe in keeping the employees [at the lock] informed with all the pertinent information that is relevant to our project,” he said.
DeRusha agreed. “Finding a workable solution to the Asian carp issue that fits with our mission and allows us to remain a strong steward for the environment is a major challenge,” he said.
While nuisance species will continue to challenge the district’s staff as they work with other federal, state and local partners to find sustainable solutions, Mark Besseler, Lock and Dam 5A lockmaster in Fountain City, Wis., said another challenge facing the district’s navigation employees is keeping up with the other modes of transportation available. “Our lock force is doing a good job making safe and efficient lockages,” he said. “[But we need to continue to] maintain a safe, secure facility that is efficiently operating 100 percent of the navigation season.”
While safety and security will continue to be a part of the district’s navigation plan, Darrel Oldenburg, lower area lockmaster and Lock and Dam 9 lockmaster in Eastman, Wis., said one of the new challenges this year is implementing the new tracking systems used to report vessels using through the locks. The lock performance monitoring system, or LPMS, is scheduled to replace the OMNI reporting system that’s been used since at least the 1980s. Currently, the lock staff uploads the information into both systems.
The systems are part of the Navigation Information Connection, or NIC. The NIC website contains information on everything from lock conditions to vessel locations. The system reports include information on the Upper Mississippi River System. The system includes the federal commercial navigation projects above Cairo, Ill. The area includes the Upper Mississippi, Kaskaskia, Illinois, Black, St. Croix and Minnesota rivers.