A gate failure at the Chickamauga Lock will shut down the river passageway for the next three weeks.
The U.S Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lock through the Chickamauga Dam in Hixson, said today that a routine inspection revealed that the anchorage of the upper gate requires immediate repair. The unexpected shut down of the lock occurred around 5 p.m. Monday afternoon and has shut off through traffic by commercial and recreational boats in Chattanooga.
Jeff Ross, Nashville District Navigation Branch chief for the Corps of Engineers, said the anchorage assembly has to be removed to allow for a more complete inspection of the area before repair plans are finalized.
"The Corps will begin repairs as soon as possible after its evaluation is completed," Ross said. "I am well aware of the impacts this closure has on commercial and recreational vessels moving up and down the Tennessee River. We are moving as quickly as possible to address the situation."
The Chickamauga Lock, originally constructed in the 1930s, suffers from concrete growth in the rock aggregate of the lock chamber. To maintain the existing lock, the Corps has had to install extra anchors and support systems as part of what the Corps calls "aggressive maintenance."
A new and bigger lock is being built to replace the aging and crumbling existing lock, but work on the new lock stalled more than three years ago when funding ran short in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which pays for lock and dam projects in the United States.
The Corps has spent nearly $200 million on the new lock, but the agency estimates it will cost nearly $500 million more to finish the new and bigger lock.
During a congressional debate Monday, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said that he helped write a new funding formula in the Water Resources Development Act approved by Congress earlier this year. That should increase the Corps' priority on finishing the new lock, and provide more funding to maintain the existing lock.
Tyler Threadgill, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said the congressman was notified of the lock failure early Tuesday. And he said funding for the repair was already in place in a maintenance fund.
"The Chickamauga Lock has been a top priority for Congressman Fleischmann since day one, as evidenced by his leading the fight to change the lock's funding system, not using the Band-aid of the past," Threadgill said.
But there is still not enough money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to resume work so far on the replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam. Both Fleischmann and his opponent, Democrat Mary Headrick, said they could support a higher diesel fuel tax by barge operators to help replenish the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and resume work on the new lock.
Dr. Headrick, said today that funding for the new lock is "just not a difficult problem" and should have been fixed already.
Questions about the status of the closure should be addressed to the Navigation Branch at 615-736-5607 or the Chickamauga lockmaster at 423-875-6230.
Read more in tomorrow's Times Free Press.