The Bonneville Lock, located about 40 miles east of Portland, Oregon, closed late last week to all Columbia River traffic due to an issue with the downstream lock gate. Lock operators observed issues closing the gate Thursday afternoon and, after inspection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, determined that continuing operation posed the possibility of damage to other lock components. Demolition of the damaged sill at the downstream end of the lock has started and experts will then assess the gate foundation and proceed with repairs. It’s not clear when the repairs can be finalized. The damage to the structure effectively halts all barge traffic moving up and down the 485-mile Columbia River Basin and comes at a critical time for wheat producers who are at the peak of harvest and trying to export their products through deepwater terminals on the Pacific Ocean. "This is definitely a challenging time. Our two largest barge lines on the Columbia Snake River System report over 100,000 tons of stranded product above Bonneville Dam,” says Kristin Meira, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association. “This doesn't represent all the impacts, of course — the supply chains on the river are meant to be in constant motion, and the stoppage of one link has ripple effects across the entire system. This incident also shows the critical need to fund a comprehensive maintenance and rehabilitation program for the eight locks on the Columbia and Snake rivers. This river system is one of the region’s and nation’s chief cargo transportation arteries, and the failure of any one lock can have a huge and potentially catastrophic impact on the economy of the Pacific Northwest and a number of sectors throughout the nation."

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