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Marseilles Dam was struck by seven cargo barges that broke loose during historic flooding three weeks ago. The collision significantly damaged two dam gates. A Unified Command, consisting of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the barge industry, has been working to repair the damage. The current focus of the effort is to build a roughly 345-foot, L-shaped rock dike downstream of the dam to equalize river flow while the gates are repaired.
MARSEILLES — When the Illinois River reached historic flood levels three weeks ago seven barges broke loose striking the Marseilles Dam. While initial rumors that the dam had collapsed were unfounded, a combined effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard and the barge industry is still working to repair the damage. “Two of the (dam) gates were damaged to the point that they are inoperable now,” said Allen Marshall, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers. In order to facilitate repairs to those gates work crews have been busy building a roughly 345-foot long, L-shaped rock dike just downstream of the dam. To ease that process, the Unified Command overseeing the repairs is now implementing a 4-foot drawdown of the Marseilles navigation pool, the waters upstream of the dam. With the drawdown expected to further disrupt river navigation, barge businesses have spent the past week getting as much material moved up and down the river as possible, explained Pat Shea, operations manager at River Docks Inc. and Peru Terminal LLC, Peru. “It shows how small we really are,” Shea said, contemplating how easily nature is able to overpower otherwise impressive manmade constructions. Jackie Anderson, spokesman for ADM, which has river terminals in La Salle and Ottawa, in a statement, said “River navigation remains slow on the Illinois River due to a backlog of barges above and below the Marseilles Dam. We are relying on trucks to receive freight at our two grain elevators in Morris, Ill. because of the delayed barge traffic, but our elevators south of the dam have resumed normal operations. We are leveraging our extensive transportation network to ensure that customer deliveries continue to be met until we can resume normal business operations on the river.” Since the flooding, four of the seven barges that struck the dam have been removed but the three others remain fully or partially submerged. They will remain in the water for the time being as the focus is on building the rock dike, which is expected to take a few weeks to fully build. “The rock dike is necessary to help us equalize the flow so we can make the necessary fixes to the gates,” said Lt. Col. Todd Reed of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once repairs are completed the dike will be removed, he said. Navigation notices have been coordinated and broadcasted to mariners who may be affected by the drawdown, according to a Unified Command press release.