River Infrastructure Condition
The OKI region has a vast river freight network comprising 156.2 miles of commercially navigable riverfront bordering six of OKI’s eight member counties. Since most people rarely see a barge in operation, unless traveling along or over the Ohio River, the sections that follow provide an overview of primary river infrastructure elements. The purpose is to share the components of the vast network in operation 24/7 in the OKI region.
Our River Network
The OKI region spans 87.3 miles along the Ohio River and seven commercially navigable miles on the Licking River in northern Kentucky. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) maintained depth for a waterway to be commercially navigable is nine feet. Boone and Hamilton counties contain the greatest lengths of riverfront miles. By combining our Ohio and Licking river mileages, the OKI region has 94.3 miles of the United States Department of Transportation’s Marine Highway (M-70), as the entirety of these rivers’ navigable miles are included in the designation.
A barge is an unpowered conveyance used to transport freight on U.S. inland waterways. As an analogy, think of a barge as a large shoe box capable of and designed to transport dry bulk and liquid commodities. Barges carrying dry bulk commodities can be open or covered depending on the product and need to protect it from the elements. Barges transporting liquid commodities are specifically designed for this service. Stringent construction, inspection, and maintenance regulations ensure safe transport of petroleum and chemical cargoes, products used daily by Americans. Like a rail car, a barge is dependent upon a motorized vessel for its movement and steering.
Towboats are the self-propelled, fully crewed vessels that maneuver barges along U.S. waterways. A typical barge is 195 feet long by 35 feet wide. On the Ohio River, fifteen barges are generally aggregated into a flotilla, tow — that is, 1,000 feet long and 105 feet wide, conveying about 26,250 tons of cargo. McGinnis Inc., and Carlisle & Bray Enterprises are two companies that provide towing, shifting, fleeting, repair, and maintenance services within the OKI region. Inland Marine Service Inc. is another maritime company that provides vessel management services within the OKI region.
Three Liquid Barge Tow
Source: Bill Kinzeler. Central Ohio River Business Association (CORBA). (2022).
A dock is a specific structure built along a commercially navigable waterway that enables vessels to receive or discharge cargo. There are 104 docks in the region and more than half are found in Hamilton County. Sixty-three docks are in Ohio, 34 in Kentucky, and seven in Indiana. In early 2022, only seven percent of docks, 14 total, were classified as inactive, meaning they were not being used for freight shipments at that time.
On both the Ohio and Licking rivers, most docks are situated on the right descending bank (RDB). The RDB for the Ohio River includes Dearborn, Hamilton, and Clermont counties in Indiana and Ohio. Kentucky counties are on the left descending bank (LDB). The RDB on the Licking River denotes the Campbell County side. Kenton County is on the Licking River’s LDB.
Commercial River Terminals
A commercial river terminal is an individual facility having one or more docks that provide a customer stevedoring services and temporary storage of product. Typically, a terminal has the capacity to support several different commodities. For example, Cincinnati Bulk Terminals in Cincinnati has three docks that receive bulk commodities, some of which may require open or closed storage.
In January 2022, there were 58 commercial river terminals in the OKI region operated by 42 private companies. Nine companies have more than one terminal location. These companies are Cargill; Consolidated Grain & Barge; Duke Energy; Dynegy; Hilltop; Marathon Oil; Martin Marietta; Northern Kentucky Aggregates; and Watco. Nearly half (20) of the companies are members of the Central Ohio River Business Association (CORBA).
One of Three Cincinnati Bulk Terminal Docks
Source: Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). UAV footage with permission of Cincinnati Bulk Terminals. (2021).
Barge Fleeting Areas
Barge fleeting areas are important to maritime commerce on rivers. Like rail yards for train cars, they provide secure places to temporarily store loaded and empty barges. The barges may be waiting for a towboat to pick them up, waiting to be cleaned, waiting for repairs, or waiting for the appropriate time for a terminal operator to transfer product on or off the barge. A barge fleeting area has a defined boundary and mooring capacity approved by USACE. Fleeting areas do not handle short or temporary anchoring of barges in transit under the care of a towboat. (Source: The American Club. Barge Fleeting Area Issues & Best Practices. (June 2021).)
Barge Fleeting Areas on the Right and Left Descending Banks of the Ohio River
Source: Bill Kinzeler. Central Ohio River Business Association (CORBA). (2022).
Located only on the Ohio River, there are 35 barge fleeting areas in the region. More than half are in Hamilton County, close to the greatest number of river terminals and docks. The proximity of fleeting areas to docks facilitates efficient barge movements as they are needed by terminal operators for loading and unloading freight.
Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
A port is a specific geographic area designated by the USACE that includes one or more terminals. The USACE uses port statistical areas to report information about economic activity for select segments of the national inland waterways and coastal networks.
In 2015, the former 26-mile-long Cincinnati Port was re-designated and renamed as the Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (Ports). The re-designation expanded the area to cover 15 counties in Ohio and Kentucky along 226.5 miles of the Ohio River. This included the right descending bank from mile 356.8 to mile 491.4; the left descending bank from mile 357.4 to mile 576.3; and both banks of the Licking River, from mile zero to mile seven.
Although Dearborn County is not included in the official USACE Ports area, data on river freight activities is collected by OKI and our CORBA partners. The OKI region is in the heart of the Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and serves as home to the greatest number of the Ports’ commercial river terminals.
Map of the Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Source: The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority (The Port). (2015).
Locks and Dams
The OKI region is situated in the Markland Pool — the name attributed to the body of water located above the Markland Locks and Dam. The Markland Pool extends upstream for 95.3 miles to the Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam at Ohio River mile marker 436.0, and, for a short distance, up three navigable tributaries — the Miami, Licking and Little Miami rivers.
Built in 1964, the Markland Locks and Dam is beyond the OKI region at Ohio River mile marker 531.5. It connects Switzerland County, Indiana, with Gallatin County, Kentucky. A hydroelectric plant attached to the dam structure is located on the Indiana side of the river. This facility is operated by Duke Energy Indiana and has a hydroelectric power plant capacity of 81,000 KVA (kilovolt-ampere), or 81 million volts.
Markland Locks and Dam
Source: United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). (2013).
Built in 1962, the Meldahl Locks and Dam is within the OKI region between Clermont County in Ohio on the RDB and Bracken County, Kentucky, on the LDB. A hydroelectric plant attached to the dam structure is located on the Kentucky side of the river. This facility is operated by the City of Hamilton, Ohio, Utility Department.
Both facilities have a tainter or radial dam gate design consisting of 12 gates. Although both Markland and Meldahl have Emergency Action Plans, the USACE reports having “reliability concerns” for both facilities and that their hazard potential is “significant.” The USACE Louisville District states that the consequences of not maintaining the Markland facility include “increased transportation costs and delays in the shipment of raw materials and a loss of access between Indiana State Highway 156 and U.S. Highway 42 in Kentucky.” The USACE Huntington District reports that failure to maintain Meldahl could result in “the complete termination of commercial navigation which would raise shipping costs and delay essential commodities including fuel for power plants, petroleum products for the Greater Cincinnati Metropolitan Area and raw materials for major industries.”
The Markland and Meldahl locks and dams are included in this discussion due to their proximity to the OKI region. However, the operations and maintenance of the entire Mississippi and Ohio river network is key to the continued flow of marine commerce in, out, and through the OKI region.