TEXT OF BOB GALL'S LETTER! Senator Byrd's response follows Bob's letter. Corps response to Senator Byrd's inquiry then follows.
May 27, 2000
Honorable Senator Robert C. Byrd
311 Senate Hart office Building
Washington, DC 20510
I am writing concerning the closure of the Hildebrand and Opekiska Locks on the Monongahela River south of Morgantown W.Va. As you know, because it was principally with your help, that they exist, there are millions of dollars invested.
The Corps of Engineers are now closing these locks for two shifts per day, unless needed by commercial traffic. This in effect shuts down the upper 25 miles of the water way, to pleasure boats, unless passage can be made during the hours between 8 am and 4pm, during the day.
As you know, the Monongahela River is simply an extension of the intercoastal water way which extends from New York to Brownsville Texas and the Corps of Engineers spends much time and money maintaining this waterway, its harbors, beaches, jettys, etc. In effect, our liquid superhighway.
As a small Marina owner I can attest to the fact that many people read about the beauty of the Mon river and travel great distances to enjoy it. Last year for instance, we had two families from the state of Washington haul their trailerable houseboats here and used the waterways to return to Kansas City Mo. It is common to have people transit from here to Florida or Texas. One customer made the complete circuit of the Eastern US via the Great Lakes and the Intercoastal waterways. Almost weekly boaters from the Pittsburgh area stop here because of the lack of ability to use the upper locks after 4pm.
What we are asking is that the upper Mon River is kept open at least two shifts per day from May 1 to October 30.
I am enclosing a letter published by the "Upper Monongahela Committee for Better Boating." This outlines the rationale for the needed congressional action to permit the Corps of Engineers to make this happen.
/S/ Sincerely, Robert L. Gall, Owner Riverside Marine Co., Rt. 1, Box 239, Maidsville WV 26541.
Letter to Don Strimbeck from Senator Byrd, dated 30 June 2000, received 10 July 2000. Bob Gall, Riverside Marine, received similar letter. Senator Byrd's letter is in response to Bob's 27 May letter.
Dear Mr. Strimbeck:
I have received a copy of the enclosed report from officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responding to my inquiry about the hours of operation of the Hildebrand and Opekiska Locks.
While I regret that this response might not be encouraging, you may be assured that I am pleased to have contacted Corps officials about this matter and to make the enclosed information available to you.
With kind regards, I am
/s/ Robert C. Byrd
CORPS RESPONSE TO SENATOR BYRD'S INQUIRY:
Department of the Army, Pittsburgh District, Corps of Engineers, William S. Moorhead Federal Building, 1000 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15222-4186
Operations and Readiness Division
Date stamp on letter is 26 June 2000.
SUBJECT: Hours of Lock Operation, Upper Monongahela River, West Virginia
Honorable Robert C. Byrd
311 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510
Dear Senator Byrd:
This is in response to the letter written by Mr. Robert L. Gall dated May 27, 2000, expressing concerns about the operating hours at Hildebrand and Opekiska locks on the Monongahela River. Mr. Gall requests that no cutbacks be made in the current one shift per day schedule, and has requested that service be expanded to at least two shifts per day.
I can assure you and your constituents that we have no plans in place to reduce hours of service at any of our locks on the Monongahela River. That said, we do not have the ability to increase the hours of service, as has been suggested by Mr. Gall.
The Monongahela River System of Locks and Dams was authorized and constructed to support navigation at a time when the system supported a considerable amount of commercial traffic, primarily from the coal industry. When the facilities at Morgantown, Hildebrand and Opekiska were constructed between 1948 and 1967, they were designed to support an annual commercial traffic volume of 4 million tons. Actual traffic levels have never reached that level and are, in fact, the lowest in commercial traffic on the Monongahela River and among the lowest in the nation.
The 1999 commercial traffic fell well short of this design capacity: a total of 28,100 tons of cargo moved through Opekiska, 32,900 tons through Hildebrand and 415,725 tons through Morgantown Lock and Dam. By comparison, 21.5 million tons went through Lock 2 at Braddock, Pa., just a few miles downstream on the Monongahela River.
Funds to operate and maintain the inland waterway system are requested annually by the Corps of Engineers and are prioritized on a nationwide basis in accordance with the magnitude of the commercial traffic supported. The relatively low commercial use of the Upper Monongahela River makes it difficult to justify requests for increased levels of funding.
We will continue to look for ways to make our operations more efficient and effective, but we have no current plans to increase our hours of operation.
Operating and maintaining the navigation facilities on the Monongahela River is an important Corps mission and we will continue to serve our commercial navigation customers, as well as recreational boaters. In 1999, in addition to commercial tows, some 591 small boats passed through Opekiska lock, 316 went through Hildebrand and 759 used our Morgantown facility. While these numbers may be small in comparison to other areas, these customers are important to us and we are committed to providing them the high level of service and professionalism they have come to expect of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If we can provide you or your staff with any additional information on the operation of the upper Monongahela River, please contact Richard Dowling, Public Affairs Officer, at 412-395-7501.
/s/ David R. Ridenour, Colonel, Corps of Engineers, District Engineer
When we (Upper Monongahela Committee for Better Boating) began this exercise last February, we first focused on our Congressman Mollohan, as we felt this lock hours problem was an ideal issue for him and other representatives whose districts include navigable rivers with lock hours problems. We also realized that the problem is NOT the Corps of Engineers. The Corps, as required by law, chokes down lock hours as commerce on the river declines. So, we do not fault the Corps for doing what the law requires. The cure is to change the law, so that the Corps is required to consider the needs of recreational boating (and fishing) and river community development when setting lock hours, along with the Corps current mandates for facilitating river-borne commerce, flood control, and, river flow maintenance. All of our rationales for this were laid out in Wally Venable's 16 March 2000 seminal letter on the lock hours problem to Congressman Mollohan, and, in my follow-up letter dated 17 March. These letters were put out to my four lock hours email lists, and, can be made available again via email or snailmail upon request. I also have a great deal of other pertinent information acquired since February, and, this is available upon request via snailmail.
So, after Bob Gall wrote his letter to Senator Byrd, copying me after he sent the letter, we figured we (committee) might as well also pursue the lock hours matter with Senator Byrd.
Now, when Senator Byrd referred Bob's letter to the Corps, I knew exactly what would happen!! Anyway, some comments on the Corps response.
The first sentence of the second paragraph would lead us to think that at least we ain't gonna be treated to even less lock hours in the future for the Morgantown, Hildebrand, and Opekiska locks. However, as backed up by Corps emails to me, what that sentence means is that, today, they have no plans for further reductions in lock hours. However, such plans exist for the future, given the declining commercial traffic on the Upper Mon.
The second sentence of the second paragraph is true, given the Corps is acting as required by law. However, at our 6 June public meeting at the Westwood Middle School, I asked Tom Flynn, Operations Manager for the Mon, if roughly $500,000, on top of their existing budget for the Morgantown, Hildebrand, and Opekiska locks, would keep Hildebrand and Opekiska open all day all year (instead of the current day shift only), Tom allowed my ballpark guesstimate was roughly right! So, it'd cost even less to keep these two locks open all day during the 1 March to 31 October boating season. And, even less to keep them open for two shifts during the boating season. Yet, none of this is brought out in the Corp's response to Senator Byrd's inquiry!!!! THIS MONEY IS PEANUTS!!!
And, Bob Gall fired off another letter to Senator Byrd, on Tuesday 11 July. Look for his letter in a separate email from me shortly!! Bob and I agree on what we think will happen to our Upper Mon locks, given no change in current law. Right now, keep in mind that the Point Marion and Morgantown locks are open all day all year. And, Hildebrand and Opekiska are currently open day shift only, all year (since 1985). And, keep in mind the Corps plan, starting with FY 2002 on 1 October 2001, to take Hildebrand and Opekiska to day shift 5 days a week, and, Morgantown to day shift only!!! And, as Bob and I opine, it could get much worse!!!
How much worse??!! Well, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 have been a death blow to the high sulfur coal mines in our Upper Mon area. Coal traffic on the Mon took a hell of a hit with the closing of the Arkwright-Osage mines and river terminal here in Granville in October 1995. And, keep in mind that the Humphrey mine pulled out the longwall machinery a year or so ago. And, the only thing keeping Humphrey going is a block of about 400 acres of coal they bought in PA, adjacent to the mine workings. That coal, mined the old-fashioned way (continuous miner) is to be gone in four years. Then, from what we hear, Humphrey closes. When Humphrey closes, look for the Point Marion locks to go to day shift only. Then, keeping Point Marion and Morgantown locks on day shift only probably would satisfy the minimal commercial river traffic we would see. And, recall that a major upgrade of the Point Marion lock was completed about two years ago, at a cost on the order of $80-130 millions!!
AND!! Look for the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks to be closed!!! This can be done two ways. One way would be to drain the pools from Opekiska to Fairmont, and, from Hildebrand to Opekiska. Then, bolt the lock gates open, so that the Mon becomes a creek from the Hildebrand dam to Fairmont!!!
The second way to close these two locks would maintain the current pool levels. Here, the large rectangular objects you see stored at these dams would be used to put a wall (they interlock) on the upstream side of the upstream lock gates. In other words, extend the dam across the lock chamber. (This is what they do when they need to isolate the lock chamber for repairs.) Anyway, you then have what amounts to a "flow over the top" dam, like the old original dams. This would maintain the puddles between Hildebrand and Opekiska, and, Opekiska and Fairmont, for boating.
So, yes, given no change in current law, look for the above scenario to play out over the next few years!! We'll play out a "self-fulfilling philosophy", ie, decline in river-borne commerce leads to cutting of lock hours. Cutting of lock hours then discourages any new entrepreneurial ideas for river-borne commerce. This also of course slams the door shut on recreational use of the Upper Mon, when we should be encouraging long-distance boating on the Mon, to foster riverfront developments in Morgantown, Fairmont, etc, and, river marinas. So, given no change in laws, we are locked (pun intended!) into a "death spiral" by present law, which does not recognize the changing needs of our nation's economy, as aptly illustrated by the fact that the communities on the Upper Mon have gone from mining to high-tech, and, recreation on the river now is more important than bulk commercial tonnage traffic on the Upper Mon.
Look for the "death spiral" for the locks and dams on the Upper Mon!! With the existing law, and lack of community concern, we will lose and/or greatly restrict the use of our four very modern locks and dams, so that we might "save" perhaps one to five million dollars a year (my "swag"!) by closing the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks, and going to day shift only at the Morgantown and Point Marion locks. And, fulfillment of the "death spiral" will kill off any new commercial uses of the Upper Mon, plus totally kill off long distance recreational boating, which already is on the ropes due to the day shift only lock hours at Hildebrand and Opekiska. It will also curtail waterfront commercial developments (eg, marinas, restaurants, etc) that would greatly benefit from the locks being kept open during the boating season.
Finally, again, we have no quarrel with the Corps of Engineers. The Pittsburgh District folks, especially Tom Flynn, Operations Manager for the Monongahela River, and, Dick Dowling, Chief, Public Affairs Office, have been most kind and helpful. We also appreciate Tom's adding extra lock hours during the 4th holiday. And, we who do use the Upper Mon appreciate the courtesy and help to recreational boaters and fishers, by Cecil Rice, Lockmaster for the Morgantown, Hildebrand, and Opekiska locks, and, Cecil's "damn dams" crew!!!!