REPAIRS TO NEW ORLEANS CANAL LOCK WILL CLOSE INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY

REPAIRS TO NEW ORLEANS CANAL LOCK WILL CLOSE INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY

A canal lock in New Orleans will be closed at least three days this week, effectively shutting down traffic along the Intracoastal Waterway that stretches along the entire U.S. Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled a three-day closure between Tuesday and Thursday to allow emergency repairs to the antiquated, 64-year-old Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock. On Wednesday and Thursday, a 20-mile stretch of the waterway just west of the lock also will be closed to allow movement of an oversized load.For more than 20 years, the corps and the Port of New Orleans have been trying to figure out how to update the nation's busiest lock, which is too narrow for modern, large vessels and is constantly in need of repair. But alternative routes have not proved feasible, and strong opposition from one of New Orleans' oldest neighborhoods surrounding the lock has squelched considerations of expanding its current location.

The only alternative route linking the east-west routes of the Intracoastal Waterway lies to the south near the shallow, open Gulf waters near Southwest Pass. The Baptiste Collet Channel easily becomes unnavigable in rough weather conditions similar to conditions in the area last week.

"I doubt that traffic will find Baptiste Collet navigable during the repairs," said Cornel Martin, the corps' southern region vice president.

More than 50,000 vessels and barges weighing some 25 million tons carried cargo through the lock in 1991, corps statistics indicate. That averages out to about 137 vessels a day, or between 400 and 500 vessels that could be bottlenecked on either side of the lock during repairs.

"The repair is something we couldn't avoid," Mr. Martin said. "It's basically the hinge that holds the lock gate onto the wall that's cracked and needs to be replaced."

The corps also has scheduled for closure a 20-mile stretch of the waterway west of the lock between Mile Marker 34 west of the Harvey Canal to Mile Marker 15 at the entrance to the Barataria Waterway.