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Headaches for Puget Sound locks

Boaters planning to head out to Puget Sound via the Seattle locks over the next two weeks might have trouble doing so, particularly sailboats — the railway bridge just west of the locks will be closed from Nov. 10 to 24 for a major upgrade.

The work coincides with the closure of the large lock during the same period for annual maintenance. But while boats will still be able to travel through the small lock over the two-week period, many will not be able to pass under the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway bridge, which has a clearance of 43 feet at a 10-foot tide.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said the bridge, which was built in 1913, is being closed to allow for replacement of major components and bearings that power its lifting mechanism. The bridge will close at 1 a.m. Wednesday and reopen at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 24, he said.

Work on the $5-million project began three months ago, Melonas said, and crews are now working around the clock to complete the site preparations needed for the major work to start. The bridge, which opens on one side to allow boats to pass under it, will be restored in two phases, with the east side finished before components on the west side are replaced.

Meanwhile, crews are still working to repair electrical damage to the large lock caused by a lightning strike on Oct. 11. The lock has been operating on a semi-manual basis since Oct 14, with crews opening the lock at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks, has said damage from the lightning strike turned out to be worse than initially thought, causing the repairs to drag on for weeks as crews replaced parts and waited for additional parts to arrive.

In the meantime, workers have been stationed underground on either side of the large lock, operating the miter gates that hold and release water via an electrical crank system which operates separately from the lock’s main electrical box, which was knocked out by the lightning strike.

A Corps spokesperson said the lightning strike primarily damaged the lock’s hydraulic system driver and relay cards. The cards are a critical component that tells the hydraulic system which fluids to pump and controls the speed of the opening and closing of the gates.

The large lock is not expected to resume normal operations before being closed for maintenance at 8 p.m. Wednesday.