Closed since Saturday morning due to non-structural damage, Lock 27 on the Mississippi River near Granite City, Ill., is projected to reopen early Thursday following emergency repairs.
Drought may have played a role in the damage to the lock, which was caused by additional wear on a protection cell that is typically covered with 15 to 20 feet of water. Michael Petersen, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says Lock 27 is the busiest lock on the Upper Mississippi.
As of Sept. 13, the Agricultural Marketing Service reported that 122,000 tons of corn, soybeans and wheat moved through Lock 27 for the week ending Sept. 8, easily surpassing totals for the other three Illinois locks.
More than 400 vessels are backed up at the lock, according to Colin Fogarty, a spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard. He estimates it will take two to three days after the lock is repaired to move all waiting vessels through.
The damage comes as new proof that drought has caused headaches on land and in the water.
"This is a major artery for agricultural exports and traffic in general," Petersen says. "It's a tough year already, we don't want it to be any tougher."
Petersen said the closure is costing the economy roughly $2.8 million a day.
"We understand the value of the lock and dam, of the inland transportation system and its impact on the economy. That's really what's driving this, and why we are working so hard to get this open again," Petersen adds.
Though producers are in the midst of harvest, Fogarty says according to his records, no agricultural shippers have asked for priority seating in the queue, likely meaning no grain shipments are close to spoiling.
He estimated the gross amount of cargo that is currently held up on the river is the equivalent of 5,600 fully loaded rail cars or 24,300 semitrailers.
"This event was unexpected," Fogarty says, "but given the low water conditions the unexpected is quickly becoming expected."