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Power Plant Gets Push Up the Mississippi

June 07, 1989|From Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — The world's largest prefabricated power plant began a slow journey Tuesday under tow up the Mississippi River, the same body of water that it eventually will use to generate electricity.

Cables groaned when two tugboats in front pulled and two tugs in back pushed the massive power plant, the Merrimac, off a dry dock at a suburban New Orleans shipyard to begin its 208-mile journey upriver.

"I feel real good. I've been working on this thing for 13 years. We started literally from scratch," said Sidney Murray of Catalyst-Old River Hydroelectric Ltd., one of the investors. "It's been exciting for everybody."

Murray videotaped the beige structure as it edged away from its dock. About 75 spectators cheered from the dock.

12 Stories Tall

The power plant is 12 stories high, 456 feet long and weighs about 25,000 tons. Company officials said that although the Merrimac is smaller than some of the world's largest ships, it is believed to be the largest structure to ever travel up the Mississippi River.

The Merrimac is headed for a point 40 miles south of Vidalia, where it will be fitted for operation in a channel where water will run from the Mississippi River through the power plant turbines and into the Atchafalaya River.

Louisiana's first hydroelectric plant should be fully operational by July 1, 1990, said Bill Fox of Ebasco, an engineering firm that worked on the $500-million project.

The Merrimac will creep upriver at 2 to 4 m.p.h. and should arrive in northeast Louisiana over the weekend, he said.

The major obstacle already is anticipated--the U.S. Highway 190 bridge at Baton Rouge. The bridge is too low for the tall structure, so the plant must be partially submerged while it passes underneath.

The Merrimac will probably be sunk 40 to 50 feet to leave a clearance of at least five feet between the top of the plant and the bottom of the bridge.

The 10- to 20-hour process will be done by pumping water into large hollow compartments that enable the structure to float. After the plant clears the bridge, the water will be pumped out and the Merrimac will resume its journey.

Once in place near the Old River Control Structure, the Merrimac will divert water from the Mississippi River through eight giant turbines. The water will then flow through a 2-mile-long channel into the Atchafalaya River, a 17-foot drop.

The plant is designed to generate 192 megawatts of electricity, enough to light a city of 200,000 people.

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