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Published: Saturday, 12/13/2003

Closing plan has mariners worried

The lift spans of the Martin Luther King, Jr., bridge will be replaced next winter. The lift spans of the Martin Luther King, Jr., bridge will be replaced next winter.

Plans to close the Maumee River to navigation a year from now when the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge s draw spans are replaced have maritime interests worried that the work might not end in time for shipping to resume the following spring.

Jim McKinstray, general manager of Maumee and Toledo operations for The Andersons, said a proposed Dec. 20, 2004, shutdown could affect late-season shipments from his company s elevators. Even more worrisome, he said, is the possibility of an indefinite disruption at the start of the 2005 shipping season.

“Ship schedules are particularly sensitive at the start and end of the season,” Mr. McKinstray said. “Late in the season, they need to get to where they re going for winter storage. In the spring, there are a lot of cargoes that processors need to receive to keep running. Spring is also the season for inbound fertilizer materials, which are very time-sensitive.”

But Jerry Jones, the city s acting director of public service, promised that the bridge work will be scheduled with river interests in mind.

“We re going to work closely with the maritime community. We re going to make sure we don t interfere with shipping,” Mr. Jones said. “We know how important shipping is to this community.”

The city has scheduled a meeting Tuesday with dock operators, Coast Guard officials, and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

Others potentially affected are the Kuhlman Corp. s construction materials dock next to The Andersons in South Toledo, and the ADM-Countrymark elevator across the river in East Toledo.

A city contractor is renovating the King bridge s fixed spans, a project scheduled to be completed in the spring.

Next summer, city officials expect work to start on the draw spans, which raise to allow large vessels to pass through. That $27 million project will include replacing the draw spans, the control towers, and electrical and mechanical components, and is scheduled for mid-2006 completion.

Warren McCrimmon, seaport director for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said the river closing was planned for the winter of 2005-2006. But Mr. Jones and others said it is scheduled a year earlier, and Mr. McCrimmon said the problems would be similar regardless of which year the work occurs.

Replacement draw spans are to be built elsewhere and then floated to the King bridge. The river is to be closed while the new spans are connected mechanically and electrically.

The main concern, the seaport director said, is that the schedule calls for the river to reopen no sooner than the end of March - which leaves open the possibility of a later reopening.

Lt. j.g. Michael Block, spokesman for the Coast Guard s Marine Safety Office in Toledo, said his agency would have to approve any construction that would obstruct navigation.

Mr. McKinstray said he hopes a solution can be worked out.

“I have no reason to believe [the city] won t be reasonable,” he said. “After all, they re willing to meet with us, but it could be a big problem.”

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