At midnight on December 29th, the two U.S. locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway System were closed to traffic, ending the Seaway’s 54th navigation season. But although no more ships will be coming through the system this winter, activity at the locks has not slowed down at all.
In fact, work is under way at both the Eisenhower and Snell locks 24/7 in order to accomplish the necessary capital improvement and maintenance projects that must be completed before the locks reopen to vessel traffic in late March.
The first step is dewatering the locks. Pumping out 23 million gallons of water takes about 60 hours to complete. As the locks dry out, crews of Seaway workers and contractors bring in the machinery and materials needed to begin the maintenance and rehabilitation work on the Seaway’s infrastructure.
It’s also pretty cold up there in the North Country during the winter, so crews build enclosures and use heaters to warm isolated areas as needed for activities like replacing concrete and applying paints.
Winter work routinely consists of inspecting, performing maintenance on, and repairing the various lock structures, operating machinery, and controls that can only be accessed when a lock is dewatered and the Seaway is closed.
In addition to this annual work, the Seaway is in its fifth year of a robust Asset Renewal Program (ARP), a 58-project, multi-million dollar program to renew the infrastructure that is now more than 50 years old.
A detailed schedule of work is laid out in advance and must be strictly adhered to in order to for the Seaway to open on time. The next few months will see work on ARP projects for the installation of an ice flushing system at the Snell Lock, the rehabilitation of a miter gate at Eisenhower Lock, and an upgrade to the valve operating machinery at both locks.
The Seaway’s Director of Engineering and Maintenance, Tom Lavigne, notes that the projects to be completed this winter are more difficult and labor-intensive than in any winter period since the ARP started.
All of this work is also having a positive and significant impact on the upstate New York economy, supplying contract work and bringing additional employment opportunities to the area. The Seaway System collectively supports 227,000 jobs and annually generates nearly $34 billion in revenue.
We know by the number of vessels transiting the Seaway and the volume of cargo they carry that the St. Lawrence Seaway is a vital artery for the U.S economy. The maintenance and upgrades we accomplish during the winter months are crucial to keeping the waterway in prime condition, and my hat is off to the men and women of the Seaway team who are performing this important work.
Stay warm up there, everyone!