News Stories

District studies plan to keep or transfer Cape Fear River Locks and Dams River

Published Dec. 21, 2018

The Cape Fear River Locks and Dams were constructed under the Rivers and Harbors Act of  June 13, 1902, to ensure a navigable channel for commercial barges from Wilmington to Fayetteville.  In recent years, commercial barge traffic has ceased operations due to modernized transportation systems such as rail or trucking. 

   Earlier this year, the Wilmington District began a two-year disposition study to determine how best to keep or transfer the locks and dams to a non-federal entity with no project modification.

  “The study's focus is on whether federal interest exists to retain the project for its authorized purpose, based on an evaluation and comparison of the benefits, costs, and impacts, both positive and negative, of continued operation and maintenance,” said Project Manager Brennan Dooley. “Upkeep costs were traditionally averaging approximately $800,000 a year, but now it’s down to about $400,000 to $500,000 and will further decline.”

   According to Dooley, the study will evaluate three alternatives: 

1.  No-Action Plan:  Existing and future without-project (i.e., continued project operations with no changed federal action). 

2.  Deauthorize the project and dispose of real property and improvements, including removal of improvements and including consideration of future uses.

3.  Deauthorize the project and dispose of real property and improvements to willing stakeholders at no additional cost to the federal government.

   There have been discussions over the years from state officials about what to do with the outdated transportation system.  In August of 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation to accept the transfer of the three locks and dams once they have been “properly refurbished and rock arch rapids fish ladders have been successfully constructed”.  The construction of rock arch rapids was completed in Fiscal Year 2012 at Lock and Dam No. 1 using the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and state of North Carolina funds as a mitigation requirement for the Wilmington Harbor 96 Act navigation deepening project. Also, local communities and industry withdraw water from pools behind all three dams, although this is not an authorized project purpose. 

   “The second and third lock and dam structures are each more than 80 years old and will require considerable federal investment to restore the structures to a refurbished state,” said Dooley.  A Dam Safety Action Classification (DSAC) II rated structure is defined as urgent meaning that it’s unsafe or potentially unsafe.”  Specifically at “Lock and Dam No. 1 was rated as a (DSAC) II structure in 2009 under the Dam Safety Action Code before the 2012 improvements.  Lock and Dam No. 2 was rated a DSAC II in 2010, and William O. Huske is rated as DSAC IV.

  Dooley stated that the dams pose no risk to the public. The dams, he said, are low-head, and are in minimally acceptable condition, and do not pose significant risk to those downstream.  There are public access areas designated as recreation areas, but are not staffed 24 hours a day or staffed with a ranger on site daily.