Corps tries to raise lock and dam awareness

Published 7:54 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shut down the lower pool boat ramp for maintenance in January, life on the Tombigbee River has become a little bit tougher for several local fishermen.

Compounding the problem further are issues the corps discovered as attempted to begin work on the ramp.

“Once we got down there to do the actual work, the ramp caved in underneath our track hoe,” U.S. Army Corp of Engineers representative Brandon Smith said. “On top of that, we’ve had three of the highest rivers we’ve had in several years that have kept us from being able to do the work in a timely fashion.”

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After discovering a number of structural issues at the ramp, the corps determined it best to renovate the site. That means accessing the lower pool will not be as easy during the foreseeable future.

In order to help facilitate lower pool access for recreational vessels, the corps is seeking to enhance the general public’s awareness of the lock-through procedures at the Demopolis Lock and Dam.

“Especially right now, we are trying to get the word out because of what has happened down at lower pool ramp,” Smith said. “It’s a safety issue. There are a lot of dangerous things that can happen at the lock and dam. We want people to get where they’re going as safely as possible and in a timely manner.”

Recreational boaters are still allowed passage through the Demopolis lock, but are encouraged to learn the appropriate steps for the procedure before seeking access.

“We want them to know they’ve got to have life jackets for everybody in the boat and they’ve got to be on and fastened,” Terry Roswell, a lock master at the Demopolis Lock and Dam, said. “They need a decent piece of line to tie off once they get in (the chamber).”

Vessels heading for Demopolis lock are asked to contact the lock master approximately 30 minutes prior to arrival. The lock master can be reached on channel 14 via marine radio or at 334-289-0645 by phone.

“When recreational boaters come in and get along that long wall, they need to slow down and idle in,” Roswell said of vessels approaching the lock from the north.

Recreational boaters approaching the lock will have to yield to government and commercial vessels before being permitted to lock through.

Once all other vessels are clear, recreational boaters will be given a signal from the lock master when it is safe to approach the chamber. Until the signal is given, boaters are asked to remain 300 feet away from the long wall so as to avoid the whirlpools created when the chamber fills. This signal will come either by three horn blasts or over the loud speaker.

Once inside the lock, boaters will tie off to floating pins along the wall of the chamber, which spans 110 feet wide and 600 feet long. Once boaters are tied off and secure, the lock operator will close the gates to the chamber and begin either draining or filling it as needed depending upon the direction of the vessels contained therein. The process of changing the water level of the chamber, which holds 21 million gallons, takes approximately 12 minutes.

Once the chamber has sufficiently emptied or filled, boaters will be notified with one long horn blast, signifying that it is safe to untie the vessel and exit the chamber.

The total process takes between 45 minutes and an hour if no other higher priority vessels are present. The lock operator also maintains the right to determine when it is safe for vessels to lock through.

“This is a big lightning rod,” Roswell said of the lock and dam. “So there are weather conditions that would preclude me from locking folks through.”

Those seeking more information on lock through procedures are encouraged to contact the Demopolis Lock and Dam. Tours of the lock and dam are given each Saturday at 1 p.m.