Ohio River projects flowing forward

There’s been no need for barges to lock through Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River with recent high waters. Located 17 miles north of Cairo, the federal project is estimated to cost $2.7 billion once it’s completed in 2021.

OLMSTED, Ill. — Nearly $3 billion and 25 years later, the new Olmsted Locks and Dam #53 on the Ohio River are open, helping float more than $40 billion a year in commerce through the superstructure.

Head up river about four miles and the Port of Paducah is situated in Kentucky, where Southern FS has planned a key fertilizer handling facility to help serve its new territories in Kentucky and Missouri, as well as Illinois.

Seventeen miles downriver from Olmsted is Cairo at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Illinois officials are working there to establish a new barge terminal on the town’s Ohio side.

All three projects are vital to Illinois and Midwest agriculture. Here’s an update on these Ohio River projects.

Olmstead Locks and Dam

With construction that started in 1994, the new Olmsted Locks and Dam opened for river traffic last October, but the project completion date won’t be achieved until 2021.

The largest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project since the Panama Canal, the Olmsted project replaces the old Ohio River locks and dams 52 and 53, completed in 1929 and well past their 50-year designs.

The new structure built to last 100 years consists of two 110-foot by 1,200-foot locks and a dam comprised of five tainter gates, which control the amount of water that flows downstream. There are 140 wickets and a fixed weir.

It also uses what the Corps calls an “inventive engineering design” as the first and only dam to be built “in the wet,” an innovative method designed to minimize impacts to regular river traffic and environmental concerns.

Lockage time for barges has been reduced from five hours to 30 to 45 minutes, an improvement estimated to save $640 million annually, Corps documents state.

Ohio River projects flowing forward

Remnants of the original building site for Locks and Dam #53 still stand in Olmsted in rural Pulaski County. They were built in 1925 to last 50 years.

Dewey Rissler, Olmsted project manager for the Louisville Engineer District, said the new total project cost is now estimated at $2.782 billion versus previous estimates at high as $3.1 billion.

Rissler said the savings came from a combination of efficient funding and low water extending beyond the normal low water season.

The remaining work focuses on removal of old structures. Rissler also said that the projects initial completion date has dramatically improved from 2030 to 2021.

About 6,500 vessels move 90 million tons of cargo a year through this area, including limestone, coal, corn and soybeans for both domestic and export markets.

Paducah Fertilizer Facility

Just as farmers do, construction crews start to get restless with warmer temperatures, including those behind the new Southern FS fertilizer handling facility along the Ohio in Paducah, Kentucky.

“We’re days away from breaking ground down there,” said Southern FS General Manager Alan Kirby. “We’re really, really close to having all of the permits finished.”

The farm service is replacing the current building at the Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority’s Bulk Terminal with a new one featuring updated handling technology, more capacity and extended customer services, Kirby said.

While farm service’s core territory is 15 counties in southern Illinois, its services also will extend to Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee.

The project moves forward under a 10-year lease containing a 10-year extension option with the port authority.

The current facility will continue to operate until the new one opens this fall.

Port Of Cairo

Prospects for a $100 million barge terminal at the Port of Cairo in Alexander County are getting real.

In fact, state Rep. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, is working with Gov. JB Pritzker to make an April visit the 160-acre site on the Ohio River side of Cairo.

“We’re waiting for things to dry up a little and we hope to have a ground breaking ceremony,” Fowler said.

To date, Fowler said the Cairo Port Authority has received 15 letters of interest from various agricultural, transportation and commodity businesses throughout the nation. Planners also are continuing work on the design and permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The Corps is totally engaged in the project and things are looking very good,” Fowler added.

The project likely will be phased development depending on business commitments. The plans call for grain handling facilities for $30 million to $35 million, including, three truck dumps, rail dump, receiving/transfer system, eight storage tanks with 950,000-bushel storage capacity, reclaim/transfer systems, barge load-out system and various ancillaries. There also would be facilities for handling coal and liquids, river docks and rail.

“These things take time. A lot of people didn’t think these things would happen,” Fowler said. “We’ve attracted national attention and private business investment. The momentum continues moving forward.”

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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