Barges could begin rolling on Illinois River next month

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues rehab work at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam on the Illinois River. The Corps hired commercial fisherman to remove Asian carp from the chamber there so they could dewater it. Overall, the project remains on track to reopen the river to navigation by the end of October. (FarmWeek file photo)

Barge traffic could reopen on portions of the Illinois River currently closed for lock and dam upgrades by late next month.

That would be particularly good news for the ag industry to minimize the impact of the river closure on grain shipments. Harvest looks to be in full swing by that point of the season.

Tom Heinold, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District chief of operations, discussed the timetable for major rehab work at lock and dams at Dresden Island, LaGrange, Marseilles, Peoria and Starved Rock during a recent interview with the RFD Radio Network.

“Things look very good. The weather is cooperating and we’ve overcome a number of challenges,” he told RFD. “We’re meeting the schedule we laid out when we planned this thing.”

Spring flooding created some issues, that were anticipated, when the lock and dam closures took effect in early July for the main work at the sites. A slight delay to mobilize the site at LaGrange extended the timetable there by two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Corps of Engineers also ran into issues caused by unexpected deterioration of the bottom hinge on miter gates at Peoria and LaGrange, which were replaced, and the outbreak of COVID-19 among a few workers at Starved Rock.

Another unusual issue at Starved Rock surfaced when the Corps of Engineers drained that chamber.

“There were so many Asian carp in the chamber, it was actually clogging the pumps,” said Heinold, who noted commercial fisherman removed all the fish.

Elsewhere, work at Peoria remains ahead of schedule and the chamber there could be refilled as early as Tuesday (Sept. 8).

“It’s not over yet. There’s still a lot of risks out there,” Heinold said. “However, we’re looking to have the waterway back open by the end of October.”

Lock and dam closures currently are scheduled to end Sept. 30 at Peoria, Oct. 13 at LaGrange, Oct. 28 at Dresden Island and Oct. 29 at Marseilles and Starved Rock.