PASCO -- The massive pieces of a new navigation lock gate for Lower Monumental Dam made their way up the Columbia River on a barge Thursday, passed through McNary Dam and turned toward their ultimate destination on the Snake River.
The Army Corps of Engineers will close the lock and begin a 13-week project to replace the existing 50-year-old lock gate at the dam near Kalohtus on Dec. 10.
"We're completely on track with what we're doing," said Lt. Col. David Caldwell, commander and district engineer for the Corps' Walla Walla District. "We've been in planning two years to make sure this would happen smoothly."
The Corps plans to replace gates on locks at Lower Monumental on the Snake River as well as John Day and The Dalles dams on the Columbia River.
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Locks at McNary, Lower Granite, Ice Harbor, Little Goose and Bonneville dams also will close for maintenance during the outage period, which is scheduled to last into March 2011.
Corps officials have said closing everything at once will minimize inconvenience to shippers.
Area residents curious to get a peak at the work can sign up for a two-hour tour of Lower Monumental Dam at 10 a.m. Dec. 14.
The deadline to RSVP for the tour is Wednesday. Reserve a spot by calling the Walla Walla District office at 527-7700.
Caldwell said the gate replacement is something engineers expected to eventually have to do as part of the normal life cycle of the dam. When stimulus money became available for the project, they seized the opportunity rather than risking failure and a longer closure.
"This is just wear and tear," Caldwell said. "These gates are 50 years old. It's just like having your 1957 Chevy sitting in your garage. You have to replace engines and parts every once in awhile."
* Michelle Dupler: 509-582-1543; email@example.com