Saturday 28 October 2000

COE LETTER TO SENATOR BYRD; Labor Day weekend lock use at Hildebrand & Opekiska; major comments.

First, I got the following email message yesterday from Tom Flynn, COE Operations Manager Mon River:

Don - Good morning. The two times I had the locks stay open from 4-9 on the July 4th and Labor Day Weekends added up to about 13 motorboats at each site, it wasn't a lot but it was a few, maybe if the word gets around for the Major Holidays it could possibly increase.

/s/ Tom Flynn

COMMENT: We much appreciate the extra hours. My own anecdotal observations of river traffic on those weekends indicated little if any extra pleasure boating. I do know that Larry Martin and I got in my boat at noon on Labor Day, going all the way to Fairmont and back, making damn sure that we came back through Opekiska and Hildebrand locks AFTER 4pm!! Otherwise, I figgered I'd never hear the end of it if I did not take advantage of the extra hours. And, on our way to Fairmont, we caught Brooks and Bunny Javins with a herd of folks on their sternwheeler CINDY plus party barge, lurking in the Opekiska lock chamber, ready to head north, as we entered the chamber to go south. We caught up with them on our way back, and, tied off on the CINDY as both of us went north through the Hildebrand locks. ANYWAY!! Following up on Tom's supposition, if he can offer extra hours in 2001 for Memorial Day, 4th July, and Labor Day weekends, perhaps this can be publicized on the Pittsburgh District's web page for locks information, like starting next March??? Finally, I grant that the extra hours did not bring forth a great increase in recreational boat use of the locks. What might work better for such major weekends is to have Hildebrand and Opekiska open 24 hours a day, starting Friday, and, running through Monday, with adequate publicity of said hours on the Pittsburgh District website. That might encourage folks on the lower Mon , from Pittsburgh to Point Marion, to head south to Fairmont, and, get Fairmont boaters to head north. Such hours could entice the big boats to make a major weekend excursion, since they'd know they'd not be trapped in a pool because the locks were not open. However, the ultimate solution is to have Hildebrand and Opekiska locks open 24 hours a day during the 1 March - 31 October boating season. This would really promote recreational boating and fishing on the Mon, use of riverside camping facilities, and development of river communities. It'd also, with adequate advertising (eg, Quimby's Cruising Guide), entice to the Mon those who own large boats and spend weeks or months cruising the nation's navigable rivers. Yes!! I know!! You've heard this from me before!! But, I had to get the "mantra" in here somewheres!!!

BUT!! I digresses!!! Back to COE LETTER TO SENATOR BYRD!

Yesterday, Friday 27 October, I received a letter dated 13 October from Senator Byrd. Bob Gall, owner of Riverside Marine, received on Thursday a similar letter from Senator Byrd, also dated 13 October. Both letters contained the COE response to Senator Byrd. Anyway, here they are:

Dear Mr. Strimbeck:

In response to my letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C., I have received the enclosed correspondence regarding your interest in legislation that would include recreation as an authorized purpose for locks and dams.

As you are aware, I am also expecting a response to my inquiry in your behalf from the Pittsburgh District of the Corps. You may be assured that I will promptly forward this information to you as soon as it is received.

With kind regards, I am

Sincerely yours, /s/ Robert C. Byrd



U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Operations Division

Navigation and Operations Branch
Washington, D.C. 20314-1000

Oct 2 2000


Honorable Robert C. Byrd
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-6025

Dear Senator Byrd:

This is in response to your July 17, 2000, letter to James Rausch, Chief of our Office of Congressional Affairs, at Headquarters, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, concerning recreational boating on the upper Monongahela River. I would like to address your suggestion to introduce legislation to include recreation as an authorized purpose for locks and dams from a national perspective.

Recreation is one of the project purposes evaluated during our water resources planning process. There are approximately 4.6 million U.S. recreational craft operating on oceans, the Great Lakes, intracoastal waterways, or rivers containing our locks and dams. If the economic and environmental benefits are greater than the associated costs, recreation becomes one of the project purposes served. When we look at our existing projects to determine the appropriate (justified) level of service, recreation is again considered. Introducing legislation to include recreation as an authorized purpose for locks and dams is not necessary. The level of recreational usage of our locks varies greatly lock-to-lock on a given waterway or from waterway-to-waterway across the nation. At this time of constrained budgets, however, we strive to ensure our commercial users are offered effective levels of service and those facilities that service predominately recreation users may realize lesser levels of operational capability.

I understand that Colonel David R. Ridenour, Pittsburgh District Engineer, sent you a letter on June 28, 2000, addressing the upper Monongahela River lock operation issue and why we are not seeking to increase the hours of lock operation along the upper Monongahela River. The District has informed me that it would cost an additional $554,000 in annual salaries alone to add a second and third shift at Hildebrand and Opekiska Locks and Dams.

Pittsburgh District is (as are all other Corps districts and all divisions) trying to deal with insufficient Operations and Maintenance (O&M) General Funds to meet the maintenance needs of our lock and dam waterway projects and the operational requirements of all waterway users. As a result, each district has been asked and is required to look for opportunities that result in O&M cost savings. This effort allows the districts to focus their resources on efficient and effective operations and reducing the critical maintenance backlog for our aging infrastructure.

In an enclosure to your letter, Mr. William Frotscher suggested that we consider charging a recreational use fee for lock transit and using volunteers to operate our navigation locks. Section 4 of the River and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1884, enacted July 5, 1884, abolished tolls on U.S. Government canals and canalized rivers with the following language: "No tolls or operating charges whatsoever shall be levied or collected upon any vessel or vessels, dredges, or other passing water-craft through any canal or other work for the improvement of navigation belonging to the United States . . . " The charging of a toll for vessels passing through Corp-operated and maintained locks is illegal.

The Corps currently operates and maintains 238 lock chambers at 192 lock sites. One of our critical responsibilities is to operate and maintain these locks in a timely and efficient manner. We do this by using our own hired labor forces or, for a few low-commercial-use locks, we contract for these services. In either case, the Corps retains the authority regarding whether a vessel should be allowed to transit the lock because of its cargo, vessel or cargo condition, or the condition of its operators. Volunteers, even if they could safely and effectively operate the locks full-time, could be placed in an unfair decision mode regarding vessels and operational priorities. Lock operations, including the approach, locking, and departure procedures are intricate and much different for commercial towboat and barge traffic and for recreational vessels. In the event of a navigation incident, there are response procedures and actions that must be taken so that the lock operator is not held liable for personal property damages, injury or loss of life. Damages to the project or watercraft could easily be in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.

Thank you for your interest in and support of our navigation program. We will continue to provide a safe and efficient level of service for all waterway users. If you have further questions or need additional information regarding this issue, please contact me.

Sincerely, /s/ John P. DAniello, P.E.

Principal Assistant for Civil Works


(Comment by Strimbeck: The gentleman's signature covers his typed last name, and, I may have his last name wrong!)

COMMENTS BY STRIMBECK. (1) I disagree with his statement that legislation is not needed. Legislation is needed to ensure that recreational uses of waterways shares EQUAL importance with commercial use!! What he says is that they "consider" recreation, and, as the balance of his letter points out, lock hours are set by commercial needs only. While this was good for the "old economy," it does not fit today's "new economy" needs in the upper Mon region in West Virginia, and, for similarly impacted rivers, eg, Allegheny, Muskingum. NOW!! A good vehicle for this legislation might be H.R. 4299, THE NATIONAL RECREATION LAKES ACT OF 2000 (also S.3179.IS). You can get the text of this resolution (it is dead, and, needs revived in the new congress that convenes in January 2001) by going to , and, when the home page pops up, type National Recreation Lakes Act in the "word/phrase" search hickey!!! FURTHER!! If you want to get the National Recreation Lakes Study, and, order hard copies of their reports (I just got mine via snailmail today!), go to . HINT!! Order your copies via hard copy snailmail, as they ignore faxes and email requests!!! BUT!! My point is that HR 4299 needs only minor tweaking, to add our lock hours concerns on navigable rivers, to the quite similar concerns that HR 4299 addresses for recreational lakes behind flood control dams that USCOE operates, eg, in our area, Tygart, West Fork!! (2) RE the $554,000 cost he cites! Those of you who attended our 6 June 2000 public meeting at the Westwood Middle School will recall that I asked Tom Flynn if roughly $500K would cover keeping Hildebrand and Opekiska open all day all year, rather than day shift only. Tom agreed. NOW!! A half million may sound like major bucks to many folks!! But, it is peanuts when we consider what keeping these locks open all day all year can do for our river and high-tech economy along the Mon in West Virginia!! I've been through these arguments before, so, I won't bore you-uns on the email lists with said arguments again!! (3) I thoroughly understand the "O&M" cost problem!! I agree that the COE needs major additional bucks to attend to aging infrastructure, and, to address the concerns of those of us comprising the UPPER MONONGAHELA COMMITTEE FOR BETTER BOATING. And, to address the concerns of recreational boaters and fishers and campers nationwide. SO!! Us "Upper Mon River Rats" support more funds for COE, provided Congress will direct the COE to EQUATE recreational boating and fishing and camping needs with the current mandates Congress has laid upon the COE re navigable rivers, and mandates for lakes formed by COE flood control dams, ie, flood control, river flow maintenance, and, meet the needs of river commercial traffic!! (4) I do agree with the gentleman writing the COE letter, in that it is impractical to adopt Bill Frotscher's suggestions. Operation of locks and dams has to remain with COE, with no charge for lockage. BUT!! Bill has been an avid supporter of our "lock hours" issues, and, he has recently made a contact with Representative Bud Shuster, who could really help with this issue. I hope that others on my email list re "lock hours" would so stir up their congressional folks!

Now, a final crabby comment from me re "attitude!". The normal daily waddle for me and my Great Dane is from my hovel in Granville, 3 miles south to the Morgantown lock and dam, and back home. Well, I think it was a day in March 1998 when we got to the access road leading to the dam, when I saw the lock folks had put up a new sign. It made me laugh, because it is the type of "rah-rah morale" sign one often sees on military posts (and, as a retired army colonel, I've seen many such signs on army posts). To me, however, the sign seemed inappropriate for a civil works facility like the Morgantown lock and dam, as most civilians probably would be both puzzled and amused by the sign. So, I asked the lock folks if the colonel commanding the Pittsburgh District had gone bonkers or whatever. They assured me that their colonel was sane, and that orders to put the signs at all COE installations came from the top, which, if memory serves me rightly, was Lieutenant General Joe Ballard, Corps Commander. And, as I recall, LTG Ballard had developed a business plan to grow the COE budget from $4 billion to like $6 billion (which I think got him into some hot water!).

Well, if you want to see the business plan and the sign, go to the COE web page, , and click on "Who We Are." This gets you an 8-page document, with the sign pictured on page 6. The three exhortations on the sign are REVOLUTIONIZE EFFECTIVENESS, INVEST IN PEOPLE, and, SEEK GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES.

Now, contrast the exhortation, SEEK GROWTH OPPORTUNITIES, with the tone and content of the COE letter to Senator Byrd!! Here we are, the UPPER MONONGAHELA COMMITTEE FOR BETTER BOATING, in the spirit of the aforementioned H.R. 4299, handing COE a golden growth opportunity!! And, that opportunity gets summarily slapped down in the letter. I also note that the letter is not signed by a high level COE official. The letter also implies that our recreational concerns are unnecessary and that we should be content with the status quo, as that is all we are gonna get!! Then, the letter makes a case for more COE funds to maintain the status quo, which is "hail commerce" and "bah to recreation!"

So, it looks like a long haul to achieve our objectives! But, for the "immediate now," we gotta wait and see if anything interesting happens re our recreational concerns while Congress is still in session. But, such is unlikely, as Congress and the President hassle over FY 2001 budget bills. So, we are going to have to take our concerns to the new congress and administration come next January. However, after the election is over, I'll get on the phone to various folks concerning our recreational issue. So, stayed tuned!

Finally, we are putting together a neat 2001 calendar re our "lock hours" issue. Those of you on my email and snailmail lists will get a copy of the calendar.