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Corps implements recreational boating lockage policy

After receiving extensive input from the public, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Little Rock District will implement a new program for recreational boaters on 11 of the 13 Arkansas locks along the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

Beginning June 3, Arkansas locks, with the exception of Trimble Lock, near Fort Smith, and Ozark Lock, at Ozark, are being closed to recreational boaters from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday excluding federal holidays. The closures allow personnel to perform preventive and scheduled maintenance. Trimble and Ozark Locks will continue to close from 8 a.m. to noon daily to all traffic for maintenance.

Commercial towboats along with government and emergency response personnel will be locked through during the maintenance windows if the lock is operational.

Recreational boaters are encouraged to use public boat ramps to access the upstream or downstream portions of the river to avoid possible extended waiting times due to scheduled maintenance.

The Corps developed the policy after hosting eight public workshops in 2012 and conducting a 30-day comment period to seek input from all users. The policy also takes into account special scheduled events such as bass tournaments, flotillas and civic celebrations.

“Additionally, the new policy will include using only one side of the miter gates when locking recreational vessels,” said Little Rock’s Chief of Operations’ John Balgavy. “Exceptions will be made to address safety concerns associated with groups of vessels, large vessels, and inclement weather. This change is expected to reduce lock cycling of and increase the life of the lock equipment.”

Groups needing to apply for a special event permit should contact the Russellville Project Office for events occurring upstream of Murray Lock and Dam or the Pine Bluff Project Office for events occurring downstream of Murray Lock and Dam.

For events that occur on both sides of Murray Lock and Dam, either office may be contacted. The Russellville’s office number is 501-340-1758 and the Pine Bluff’s office number is 501-340-1309.

“During our public workshops we heard that our recreational boaters wanted the locks to be available weekends and during fishing tournaments,” Balgavy said. “We couldn’t have accomplished this new strategy without the assistance and input from the users. We appreciate the public’s participation and believe the finalized policy accommodates everyone.”

The system has operated essentially without interruption except for routine scheduled maintenance for more than 40 years; however, the Corps is seeing trends of constrained budgets, increasing breakdowns and an increasing backlog of preventive maintenance. The implementation of daily maintenance periods should increase long-term availability of the facilities and reduce unscheduled outages.

“Our goal is to ensure the MKARNS remains a resilient, reliable, and sustainable system that optimizes the value of the system to all users and beneficiaries while making the best use of our available resources,” Balgavy said.

Balgavy added, “We developed the policy as part of a national Corps strategy to increase the life of our navigation facilities in a constrained budget environment by doing as much maintenance as possible and reducing the number of times we use the lock equipment.”

Balgavy said the new system is the result of helpful feedback from users.

Balgavy said the biggest impact will be that users will need to be aware of these closures and plan their trips accordingly.

“We will surely consider suspending the closures for special events, like Riverfest or regional/national fishing tournaments on the system,” he said.

A second aspect of the policy is that the district will use one leaf of the miter gates to lock recreational vessels unless there’s a safety concern.

“Think of the miter gates as really a double gate. We call each side a leaf. The lock is 110 feet wide, so opening one leaf provides about 55 feet clear space for a boat to navigate in or out of the lock. Implementing this strategy will cut the number of times we operate the gates in half for recreational vessels. In Little Rock District alone last year, this would have been the equivalent of reducing over 1,000 single lockages. Lock Operators will retain the authority to use both leaves of the gate if there are safety concerns with using one leaf (e.g. multiple large boats, very large recreational vessels, or weather conditions).”

The policy can be viewed on our website at www.swl.usace.army.mil under “most requested.”

Recreation information can be found on the Internet at www.swl.usace.army.mil, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/littlerockusace, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/usacelittlerock.

In related news, the Army Corps of Engineers has issued a small craft advisory for the Arkansas River in Arkansas because recent heavy rains have caused flows to rise. During the high flows, strong currents and large debris can threaten the safety of pleasure crafts.

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