DONALD C. STRIMBECK
P. O. Box 519
Granville WV 26534-0519
25 July 2000
Senator Robert C. Byrd
311 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington DC 20510
RE: LOCK HOURS
Dear Senator Byrd:
Thank you for your letter dated 17 July 2000, which I received via fax from your office at 1504 hours on 19 July. Your interest in this "lock hours" issue is much appreciated by those of us who comprise the UPPER MONONGAHELA COMMITTEE FOR BETTER BOATING. I have some comments and questions which I'll now address.
You state that the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have "no plans to reduce hours of service at any of the Corps' locks on the Monongahela River . . ." But, concerning our Upper Mon locks (here, I include the Point Marion lock along with our three West Virginia locks at Morgantown, Hildebrand, and, Opekiska), let me make these observations.
Yes, I agree that the Corps has no such plans for the current fiscal year. And, if the Corps budget proposal for FY 2001 beginning 1 October 2000 is funded without further reductions, it appears that the Corps will not reduce hours at these locks during FY 2001.
I worry, however, about FY 2002 and beyond! Corps officials caution us that they can't guarantee that the current lock hours can be maintained if the Corps budget for river facilities operations undergoes further cuts in FY 2002 and out-years. My personal opinion (and I feel I speak for all of our committee) is that the Corps budget for river facilities should never be cut! Further, that budget category should be getting increases from Congress!
I did furnish you with copies of the seminal letters that Wally Venable and I wrote to Congressman Mollohan on 16 and 17 March concerning this lock hours issue. Enclosures 2, 3, and 4 to my letter reveal Corps contingency plans, given current and perhaps future budget reductions and further decline of commercial traffic on the Upper Mon, to reduce locks hours beginning with FY 2002. The Morgantown lock would go from being open all day all year, to day shift only, all year. The Hildebrand and Opekiska locks, which have been on day shift only, all year, since 1985, would go to day shift 5 days a week.
And, I can't fault the Corps for such contingency planning! Current law instructs the Corps to run their locks and dams and flood control dams to provide flood control and river flow maintenance, and, to operate their locks on the minimum schedule needed to facilitate river commerce. So, as commerce declines on the Upper Mon, the law requires the Corps to cut operations (eg, lock hours).
This gets me back to our committee "mantra", in that we desire that Congress enact legislation that instructs the Corps to operate their river facilities (eg, locks) in a manner that encourages recreational boating and fishing, and, the general and economic development of river communities. If such legislation is not enacted, I look for further reductions in lock services on the Upper Mon.
In other words, in my opinion, we'll get a "death spiral" going, where we may even see closure of the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks. By "death spiral" I mean that as commerce declines, lock hours are cut, which further discourages river commerce, and also discourages those who may wish to start new commercial ventures (eg, inland port proposed for the Morgantown Industrial Park). Recreational boating and fishing also suffer with each cut in lock hours, including the marinas that support boaters and fishers. And, expansion of such recreational facilities, and development of new recreational river-dependent facilities, is choked off.
Consider the cruise boat situation. Currently, we at infrequent times see the "Gateway" cruise boats come down from Pittsburgh, to host local groups with dinner and party rides. My observation is that these boats stay north of the Morgantown locks. They don't go south because of the restricted hours at Hildebrand and Opekiska locks.
We also won't see a local cruise boat endeavor on the Upper Mon, because of the lock hours situation. A cruise boat running from Morgantown to Fairmont would be feasible, if the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks were open all day during the boating season (I March through 31 October). The River Princess did operate from the Star City municipal dock in 1995 and 1996, working with the Ramada Inn for meal supply. But that enterprise failed for a variety of reasons, and not just because of the lock hours situation. Two of our own committee members, Brooks and Bunny Javins, would consider starting a locally-based cruise ship business if and when Upper Mon lock hours would make the venture practicable.
Let me describe the current situation, and, what might happen in the future, given no change by Congress in how the Corps must operate its river facilities. Again, these are my observations and opinions, and I DO NOT have any information indicating that the Corps might have such plans for the future.
I moved to Granville in May 1994. My home is on the riverbank, directly across from the WVU Coliseum. My anecdotal observations noted heavy river coal tow traffic, north and south, in 1994 and 1995. Then, the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1992 began to kick in, and, high sulfur coal traffic from 1996 on, just about died off. And, in October 1995, the Arkwright and Osage mines, and their river terminal here in Granville, closed.
Further, coal production at the Humphrey mine greatly declined when the longwall mining machinery was pulled out a year or so ago. CONSOL did buy a 400 acre patch of coal in Pennsylvania, adjoining the Humphrey workings. This coal is being mined with the conventional continuous mining machinery. Humphrey probably will close in four years.
So, my prediction is that, over the next five years or so, with the further decline of conventional river commerce on the Upper Mon, the lock hours situation will get worse, unless legislation and funding is provided to meet the needs of our new economy in the Upper Mon area (tourism, recreation, high-tech industry, etc). My prediction is that at best our Morgantown lock will be open day shift only all year long. And, I predict that the Point Marion lock may go to day shift only all year long. Finally, I predict that the Corps will want to totally close the Hildebrand and Opekiska locks. Again, these are my opinions and predictions, and, I have no knowledge of any contingency planning by the Corps that could lead to these actions.
Now, I note your statement that the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has jurisdiction over any legislation pertaining to Corps operations. While you do not serve on this committee, I'm sure that that committee would carefully entertain a request from Senator Byrd, a prominent member of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations, to review the lock hours situation and perhaps develop appropriate legislation.
I also agree that this "ain't gonna happen" as the current session of Congress tries to wrap up appropriations and adjourn for the election campaigns. While our Upper Monongahela Committee for Better Boating has been concerned about the lock hours situation since 1997, we really did not "get cranking" until this past February. While our initial efforts were aimed at getting Congressman Mollohan's attention and interest, we failed to do so. But, we are pleased that you are delving into the lock hours situation.
Our committee has a one to three year time frame in mind for hopefully achieving our goals. So, we hope that when the new Congress convenes in January, that perhaps with your help the lock hours matter can gain bipartisan attention. We feel that the lock hours matter should not be a contentious Republican versus Democrat issue. It should be a nonpartisan issue in the Senate. The lock hours issue also should be dear to the hearts of members of the House of Representatives on both sides of the aisle who face the lock hours situation in their districts.
You also discuss the cost associated with changing the law as suggested by our committee. Let me address this issue.
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. These costs are hardly "budget busters!"
As for the nationwide cost of keeping locks open for recreational purposes, my "guesstimate" is that such cost would be on the order of 10 million dollars, for locks and dams already operating and that are in good shape, like our Upper Mon locks and dams. The only way to properly "guesstimate" this cost would be for the Congressional Budget Office, with assistance from the Corps of Engineers, to do a study to determine the rivers impacted by the lock hours problem, and, the cost of adding lock hours to foster boating and fishing recreation and river community and economic development. The cost should be minimal, as we are only talking about the manpower cost to run the locks for three shifts (preferably) or two shifts (less preferable) during the recreational boating season. And, if such a study is commissioned, it perhaps should also evaluate the changes in commercial and recreational use of our nation's navigable rivers and their locks, since, say 1970. My feeling is that such a study would reveal the major economic importance today of recreational boating and fishing. And, the study should suggest ways in which the federal government could encourage the states and private enterprise to develop the shoreside facilities needed to foster recreational boating and fishing on navigable rivers (eg, launching ramps, marinas with fuel, food, bath facilities, etc).
You also state that the Corps' Fiscal Year 2001 budget has been cut $22 million from the current FY 2000 budget. Now, is this cut from the total Corps budget, which I presume includes both the military and civilian operations of the Corps? Or, is this cut just from the civilian side (public works) budget? Or, is the cut just from the Corps budget for navigable rivers? Or, worse yet, is the $22 million cut just for the Pittsburgh District? Anyway, I would most appreciate it if you could provide me with the appropriate budget summary or summaries that pertain to the area of our committee's lock hours interest, or, tell me where I can obtain this information.
This now leads me to another request. I'm sure that for budget and management purposes that the Pittsburgh District keeps records in the form of tables and charts and explanatory text concerning lock and dam operations on the Upper Mon. It should be relatively easy for them to provide me with this information. I've asked for this information from the Pittsburgh folks, informally, several times since last February, via email. I've received no response. I do have the option of formally requesting this information from the Colonel commanding the Pittsburgh District. Or, if that fails, I can make a Freedom of Information request. But, might you get this information for our committee?
The information I want pertains to the Point Marion, Morgantown, Hildebrand, and Opekiska locks, starting with 1980. I say start with 1980 because that gives us data prior to Hildebrand and Opekiska going to day shift only in 1985, and, prior to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1992. The desired information, for each year, for each lock and dam, is yearly budget, hours of operation, staffing, and, lock transits. Hopefully, in addition to a yearly summary, transit information would be broken out by month, by type and tonnage of commercial transit, and, by a count of recreational and fishing boats. Further, I'd like to see the budget and staffing projections for FY 2001, and for such projections for outyears beyond FY 2001 as may be available.
I also most appreciate the request you have made to the Corps officials in Washington. When they respond, I look forward to the information you will send to me.
Finally, a couple of minor items. Your office is on one of my four email lists that I maintain for lock hours matters. I would like to know if these emails are noted by your staff (eg, Carol Wallace and Brian Booth) that handle Corps liaison for you. But, if email is not the best way to communicate with you and your staff, should I revert to phone, fax, and "snailmail?"
Second, after we held our 6 June public meeting at the Westwood Middle School on this lock hours matter, I contacted all those on my email lists, and, by "snailmail", those at the meeting who did not have internet access. I asked them to write you, and, cc Congressman Mollohan and me. I got one "cc", from my friend Harold Martin. Yet, I understand you perhaps have been receiving considerable mail about this lock hours issue. For example, I'm told two fishing organizations (they were at the meeting) wrote you, and one group enclosed a petition with about 500 signatures. Anyway, whatever information you can share with me as to the amount and content of correspondence you have received on this lock hours matter would be most appreciated. I will call your office in a day or so, and, perhaps Carol or Brian might let me know some details about the correspondence you are getting on the lock hours matter.
Again, Senator Byrd, thank you for understanding the concern those of us who comprise the Upper Monongahela Committee for Better Boating, and the concern of other individuals and groups, have for this lock hours matter. We are concerned not only for our Upper Mon region, but we also realize that this lock hours problem exists on other navigable rivers in the United States. We hope that you and others in Congress will heed our concerns and act to cure this problem.
Donald Strimbeck, Secretary