The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to complete some much-needed, major repairs to six locks on the Illinois River, with most of the work scheduled between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2020.

While the scope of the project represents a major undertaking and includes a planned three-month shutdown of a large portion of the river, the Corps plans seek to minimize the impact on river navigation.

The Corps studied weather and river transportation patterns and selected the midsummer time frame as the best opportunity for success and least disruptive to the navigation industry.

“We’ve really tried to do as much as we can to make sure the closures are for that (planned) amount of time,” Matt Coffelt, project manager for the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said at a meeting hosted by Fulton, Mason and Schuyler Farm Bureaus at Dickson Mounds Museum near Havana.

“But there’s really no such thing as a nonimpact time (to complete the work) since the river runs year-round,” he noted.

Locks from LaGrange (80.2 miles north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers) to Brandon Road (27 miles southwest of Chicago), including Peoria, Starved Rock, Marseilles and Dresden Island, will be dewatered and repaired beginning July 1 next year.

The repairs feature new miter gate installation, rehabilitation (concrete work), lock machinery replacement at LaGrange and upper bulkhead recess installation at Dresden Island and Brandon Road. Once complete, the major renovations are expected to expand the lifespan of the locks and dams, originally constructed in the 1920s and 30s, another 25 years.

“We’re pretty confident of being able to complete this work on schedule,” said Coffelt, who noted prep work already started at Starved Rock and Marseilles. “The biggest risk is the weather pattern. If the water is above the back wall (protecting the work area), we can’t perform any work.”

The longest closure will be at Starved Rock, scheduled to last 120 days from July 1 to Oct. 30. During the scheduled closures, no vessels will be able to pass through the affected locks. An exception to this restriction could occur at LaGrange and Peoria locks, if water levels become high enough to enable the lowering of the wicket portions of the dams for open-pass.

What happens if spring flooding delays the start of the project next summer, or work falls behind pace for another reason?

Coffelt said the Corps could double shifts from one to two, 12-hour shifts per day, seven days a week.

“We’ll monitor our progress throughout the closure and, if we see we’re getting behind, we can try to accelerate (the pace) and work more shifts,” he said.

The Illinois Farm Bureau and county Farm Bureaus organized a series of meetings in the state this summer to help farmers and others who could be affected to plan ahead for the river closure.

“These meetings are to encourage participation,” said Kirby Wagner, IFB director of transportation and infrastructure. “Knowing your options and having a plan will help you be ready when the navigation stops on the river next year.”

Upcoming meetings will take place at the following times and locations:

  •  July 25, 8:30 a.m., Birkey’s Farm Store in Henry, hosted by Marshall-Putnam Farm Bureau.
  • July 26, 10 a.m., 104 Grill in Meredosia, hosted by Cass-Morgan Farm Bureau.
  • Aug. 5, 10 a.m., Grainco FS Agronomy in Morris, hosted by Kendall-Grundy Farm Bureau.
  • Aug. 6, 10 a.m., Peoria County Farm Bureau will host the final of the series of meetings at its office in Peoria.

Call the host Farm Bureau offices for more information.