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Parting is such sweet sorrow. Every year, in late November, those of us river watchers in St. Paul, Minnesota, stare sadly at an empty river devoid of barges. At the height of summer, about 100 barges line the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul and around the bend heading south until tows claimed them and moved them south down river either full or empty.

When late-November comes, they all have to be gone in order to make it through the last lock, Lock 10, in the St. Paul District for the winter closure. Historically, the last tow to leave St. Paul usually occurs around the last week of November or the first week of December, noted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on its website.

This year, on Nov. 23, the Motor Vessel Jonathan Erickson, pushing five barges with scrap metal, soybeans and grain was the final tow to depart St. Paul for 2021. Traditionally, the last tow departing the capital city heading south of Lock and Dam 2, near Hastings, Minnesota, has marked the unofficial end of the navigation season. The 2021 season started March 19 when the Motor Vessel R. Clayton McWhorter arrived in St. Paul.

The St. Paul District operates and maintains 13 locks and dams beginning at Upper St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis and ending at Lock and Dam 10 in Guttenberg, Iowa. USACE closed Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam and Lock and Dam 1, both in Minneapolis, to navigation Oct. 14. All the locks in the St. Paul district will be closed from Nov. 28 to March 17, 2022, notes USACE on their website.

"While we say goodbye to the 2021 navigation season, St. Paul District staff will be busy this coming winter with maintenance projects scheduled at six of its locks and dams. The repairs are scheduled to be completed by March 17, 2022," noted a press release.

Maintenance is scheduled at Lock and Dam 4, Alma, Wisconsin; Lock and Dam 5A, near Fountain City, Wisconsin; Lock and Dam 6, Trempealeau, Wisconsin; Lock and Dam 7, near La Crescent, Minnesota; Lock and Dam 8, near Genoa, Wisconsin; and Lock and Dam 10, Guttenberg, Iowa, said USACE.

"Work will vary at each site, ranging from replacing anchorages that are instrumental in operating the miter gates; upgrading the tow haul rail system, which is used to move barges upstream of the lock chamber when a tow is heading north, and there is a need to break the tow into two lockages and inspecting and repairing miter gates," said USACE.

"Having the tow haul rail system working is critical to keeping our lock staff safe and ensuring navigation vessels can efficiently lock through our facilities," said Jim Rand, St. Paul District locks and dams chief. "With a lot of this infrastructure more than 80 years old, it's critical that we find value-added solutions to maintain the system and ensure navigation continues transporting commodities made in the Upper Midwest to global markets."

All the construction activities are scheduled to be completed during the winter to avoid impacts to the navigation industry. The completed work will improve safety for USACE lock operators and industry deckhands.

Meanwhile, the lonely Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul hopes for an early spring when the tows and barges will return.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn