Houses built in the 1930s are often treasured pieces of history. Many find their craftsmanship and quality hard to find in today’s styles. Beautiful old houses require maintenance and care through the years to continue serving as safe structures. And so do locks and dams.
The crumbling LaGrange Lock and Dam, built in 1936 and fully operational since 1939, has far surpassed its 50-year lifespan. Located on the Illinois River about 80 miles north of Grafton, Illinois, the lock and dam is one of the eight locks on the Illinois Waterway. LaGrange is a vital piece of infrastructure relied upon by many industries, especially agriculture. Approximately 30 million tons of agricultural products move through the lock and dam a year.*
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “For 70 years, the lock has been exposed to multiple freeze/thaw cycles and flooding causing a gradual, but incessant, degradation of the lock components.” LaGrange has weathered decades of storms, and it’s past time to make improvements.
Checkoff Raises Awareness
In 2015, the checkoff realized the need for modernization of the nation’s inland waterways infrastructure. In thinking of ways to bring awareness to this issue, the checkoff produced a documentary to reach key infrastructure stakeholder and influencer audiences who could take action to improve the structure.
The checkoff, several state soy organizations and other key partners persisted in sharing the importance of maintenance for the lock and dam. The USACE finally secured funding for the LaGrange project in the fall of 2018.
Work on the Lock and Dam Begins
Preparation work started on the LaGrange Lock and Dam in winter 2019, which included concrete and utility work. Now in 2020, planned closures will allow crews to make the necessary repairs and replacements so LaGrange can operate more efficiently and safely.
The closure, which began July 1, 2020, and will last 90 days, is part of a coordinated closure of several locks along the Illinois Waterway. LaGrange will be dewatered, and significant rehabilitation of the concrete, mechanical and electrical systems will take place. Crews will replace and upgrade:
- Lock and dam machinery to manage water flow.
- Miter gate machinery, which includes the two gates that swing out from the side walls and meet at an angle pointing toward the upper level of the lock.
- Valve machinery for filling and emptying the lock.
- Technology for control systems.
- All the concrete walls.
Mike Steenhoek with the Soy Transportation Coalition recently participated in a radio interview, sharing his excitement for the work on LaGrange and other key locks and dams happening in 2020.
One specific soy checkoff goal is to communicate to appropriate stakeholders why improvements to the transportation infrastructure are needed so action may be taken. This investment raised awareness and, with work on LaGrange underway, it’s safe to say U.S. soybean farmers made a lasting impact on the state of this lock and dam and the system that helps maintain U.S. soy’s competitive advantage.