DVIDS – Information – Pittsburgh District presents freedom of motion on Independence Day and each day

PITTSBURGH – Thousands of Pittsburghers and visitors stood on bridges, parked along streets, and floated on boats near the Point of Pittsburgh to enjoy the first downtown fireworks show on July 4th since the pandemic canceled the event last year would have.

Colorful lights burst in the night air and shimmered in the water. Boaters had one of the best views under the exploding lights where the three rivers of Pittsburgh converged.

But without the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District locks and dams, which operate year-round, boaters would not have been able to navigate the rivers to enjoy the show.

“We are the hidden backbone that nobody sees, but everyone needs,” said John Dilla, chief of navigation in the Pittsburgh district.

Dilla, who worked for the district for 23 years and held almost every job from equipment mechanic to lock master, oversees navigation for all 23 locks and dams on the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela Rivers within the district.

When you think of Pittsburgh, you don’t often think of passable lock chambers. You think of bridges. But without its rivers, many of Pittsburgh’s bridges would not exist. And without locks and dams, these river routes would be too dangerous or impossible to navigate during the flood season or in dry summer periods.

“During the summer months, some areas were low enough to wade across the Ohio River,” said Matt Reisinger, lock master of the two Allegheny River facilities closest to downtown.

As on every public holiday and every weekend, the Reisinger crew worked on this Independence Day to give leisure and business traffic freedom of movement.

“I never miss the opportunity to simply think about our army personnel who are on vacation seven days a week, supporting the economy and supporting recreational traffic. Many of us sit at home and enjoy our families while they work outside to keep the rivers going, ”Dilla said.

The Allegheny River Lock and Dam 2 is one of the busiest in the area for recreational boating. Last year, this facility locked down more than a hundred pleasure craft on Independence Day weekend, without the fireworks that drew visitors downtown. This year the lock operators have worked to enable a steady stream of boaters to pass safely and efficiently as possible.

Boaters played music and partied in the open sun as they closed by the water elevator.

“Everyone is in a good mood. They are just happy to be celebrating our Independence Day, ”said Reisinger.

To keep everyone safe while boating, two district rangers spent the holidays at Lock 2, reminding everyone to wear life jackets and warning boaters when approaching dangerous restricted areas near the dam.

“I’m excited to be out here for the holidays because the people out there enjoy it,” said MiKayla Newman, the Pittsburgh District River Ranger who works every weekend all summer. “I can help you stay safe while enjoying the freedom we have.”

Newman and other county employees have missed their large chunk of vacation over the years.

Dilla said a thought would help him keep the mission in view.

“We always have to remember who our customer is, who we serve. It’s the American public. Keeping that in mind is very important from our point of view. It is an important driver of what we do for everything. It is our goal to be here, ”said Dilla.

Based on the numbers reported for 2019, nearly 14,000 pleasure craft pass through the locks in the Pittsburgh District annually. These figures do not include the more than 180 million tons of bulk cargo – including coal, sand, fuel, and others – that sail the regional rivers on commercial barges each year.

Commercially, industries that use river transport to move bulk goods benefit from using the locks. They saved an estimated $ 3.3 billion in transportation costs by using local river routes compared to other modes of transportation such as truck or rail.

Gabriel Stala, an economist in the Pittsburgh District, said the region would have a different economic look without its rivers and shipping facilities.

“I can hardly imagine that. I think we would see a completely different economy in the Pittsburgh area without the locks on the waterway, ”Stala said. “I don’t think people realize how much the waterways have benefited the region.”

Pittsburgh is perhaps always more famous for its bridges than for its locks and dams. Nevertheless, these locks and dams are just as much a part of the identity of the city and its culture as pierogi races and sandwiches filled with french fries.

Without the lock operators and the Pittsburgh District staff working during the holidays, the fireworks would look very different without boats swimming under the twinkling lights.

“I find it easy to admire that our lock operators are out there taking time for their private lives instead of being at home with their families. They are out there providing a service to people across the country and in our region, ”said Reisinger.

Recording date: 04/07/2021
Release Date: 05/07/2021 9:14 AM
Story ID: 400354
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