With ship traffic attracting a lot of attention to the Welland Canal during the shipping season, it seems to many people that the winter is a time for dormancy on the famous waterway.
But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Cassie Kelly, manager of engineering with the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation told ThoroldNews that the nine-week period of closure for the canal is packed full of construction and rehabilitation projects.
“It's not really very exciting this year, other than it’s busy. We do have 23 contractors on site. There are lots of details for us nerdy engineers,” she laughed. "We'll be completing $25 million in upgrades this year."
Of these jobs, there are at least three that are running 24 hours a day, due to really tight time frames. Some are operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We’re just finishing a four-year $100 million project in bank repair between Lock 7 in Thorold and Lock 8 in Port Colborne,” said Kelly. “To us, it’s interesting because they’re using precise equipment with GPS-guided excavators.”
Kelly and senior contracts engineer Andrew Bator explained the projects this year would not necessarily be noticeable to the public.
“People will see the temporary bridges at a few places along the canal,” he said.
There is one across Lock 7 and Bator explained the bridges are modular in design.
“You can make them for whatever load you need. They were invented in WWII to replace destroyed bridges,” he recounted.
Kelly said the bridges have to be highway loaded and are necessary because the lock gates, often used to cross them, have to remain open even in the winter to allow water to flow down the system.
“There is always water flowing from the ground, rain or snow,” she sad.
Water is also used to generate power along the canal and that necessitates a constant flow as well.
Bator explained, “We’re starting a program of repainting gates - coating inside and out. They get repaired and sandblasted before painting. We use a vinyl-based paint, he said.”
Kelly added they had considered various colours for gates but decided on light gray on recommendation from the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Commuters who use the Canal Road won’t notice huge changes but will encounter lane closures from time to time as power lines are being replaced near the railway tracks at Lock 4.
Two Taintor valves will close the canal road today between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Kelly noted that four valves were coming out this year. Two of those will be replaced and two more used as spares.
“The valves are repaired and recoated while in the shop,” explained Bator.
The road will also be closed again when the valves are returned.
Routine work includes inspections of pipes, rivets and other structures with repairs as needed, they explained.
“We’re also working on Lock 5, redoing the tunnels that carry water from one lock to another,” said Bator.
Kelly and Bator stressed that safety while working on the canal is a joint concern between their inspectors and the contractors on site.
“Safety has improved by leaps and bounds over the years,” said Bator.
Kelly added, “Contractors are responsible for safety on their site. But we have ongoing conversations about safety and part of the job for our inspectors is to stay on top of contractors.”
In 1966, Lakeview Cemetery in Thorold was expropriated by the Seaway so that a twinning of Lock 7 could be completed. The Thorold Tunnel is twice as wide as the Welland Tunnel to accommodate the expansion if it ever took place.
There has been speculation that the Cemetery could soon return to city ownership and that may well happen as both Kelly and Bator believe that Lock 7 expansion will never happen.