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Tidewater brings back employees as locks reopen

Barge company had laid off 100 workers

The Columbian
Published: March 8, 2011, 12:00am
2 Photos
With repairs complete, the navigation lock at the Dalles Dam will reopen March 24. Other locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers will reopen starting March 15.
With repairs complete, the navigation lock at the Dalles Dam will reopen March 24. Other locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers will reopen starting March 15. Photo Gallery

WALLA WALLA — Navigation locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers will go back into operation this month after several months of repairs, clearing the way for about 100 Tidewater Barge employees who had been laid off because of the closure to return to full-time work.

Another 100 Tidewater employees who had worked a mix of part-time and full-time hours because of the locks closure also will return to full-time work, said Carol Bua, spokeswoman for the Vancouver-based company.

“We are already ramping up” to be fully operational by March 23, Bua said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the locks Dec. 10 to replace gates at three dams and complete maintenance at other locations, marking the longest shutdown in the history of the Columbia and Snake river system. The locks are usually closed for about two or three weeks annually for routine maintenance.

The locks at Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River will go back into service March 15. On the Columbia River, the locks at McNary Dam will reopen March 17, followed by John Day and Bonneville dams on March 19 and The Dalles Dam in March 24.

Corps officials said that while the locks had been scheduled to reopen March 13, the date was changed to synchronize with the return to service of John Day and The Dalles locks and allow time to ensure all work met quality control standards.

Washington State University plans to release a study into the impact of closing the locks.

The Pacific Northwest Waterways Association estimates that more than 8 million tons of cargo, valued at as much as $2 billion, move by barge on the waterway each year. Northwest agricultural commodities, such as wheat and potatoes, move downriver for export at West Coast ports, while petroleum products, fertilizers and pesticides move upriver to farm communities.

About 40 percent of the region’s wheat exports travel by barge on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Shippers planned in advance for the lock closures, moving products by rail and truck, although Vancouver-based Tidewater Barge Lines temporarily laid off workers for three months while the locks were being replaced.

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