LETTER FROM SENATOR BYRD DATED 2 OCTOBER 2001
Dear Mr. Strimbeck:
Enclosed is the letter that I have received from the US Army Corps of Engineers responding to my inquiry regarding the legislation that you proposed relating to recreational boating on our nations rivers.
Although I realize that you may not agree with the position of the Corps in this regard, you may be assured that I have been pleased to contact responsible officials in your behalf and to make this information available to you.
With kind regards, I am
/s/ Robert C. Byrd
LETTER FROM CORPS OF ENGINEERS TO SENATOR BYRD DATED 25 SEPTEMBER 2001
Operations Division, Navigation and Operations Branch, Department of the Army, US Army Corps of Engineers, Washington DC 20314-1000.
Dear Senator Byrd:
This is in response to your January 18, 2001, letter concerning Mr. Donald C. Strimbecks proposed legislation to amend the National Recreation Lakes Bill of 2000/2001, to include navigable rivers as well. Now that President Bush has released his proposed Fiscal Year 2002 budget and we can see the new Administrations program priorities, I am better able to respond to Mr. Strimbecks proposal.
Over the last 5 to 7 years, the US Army Corps of Engineers has undergone a restructuring and refocusing of its organization from top to bottom in order to be more efficient and effective. With the current budgetary restraints, the Corps is challenged to continue business as usual, and, must balance operational flexibility in the navigation projects with several other missions needs. One impact of limited resources is a growing maintenance backlog, which is in excess of $800 million. The inland waterways infrastructure is experiencing more than $350 million of this maintenance backlog which impacts the locks and dams on the Monongahela River.
Our Corps districts are trying to find ways to keep our projects functional within the constraints imposed by the reduced funding and staff levels in the field. They have assessed the operational requirements and levels of service that must be provided to ensure an efficient and effective waterborne transportation system within the constraints of a reduced budget. These assessments have resulted in reductions in the operating hours at lower use locks. The language that Mr. Strimbeck proposes, requiring the Corps to keep locks open twenty-four hours a day during (at least) the recreational boating season (if not all year for recreational boaters) "unless there are valid reasons for not doing so," would require additional funds.
Mr. Strimbecks main focus is on the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks on the upper Monongahela River, but his proposed legislation would impact all locks on all waterways, regardless of their level of usage by commercial navigation. The tonnage at these two locks in 1999, were 28,000 and 27,000 tons, respectively. When compared to the 384,000 tons at Morgantown Lock just downstream, it becomes clear why the operating hours for these locks are different. Pittsburgh District has chosen to keep its operating hours at Opekiska and Hildebrand at 8 hours per day rather than 24 hours per day as at Morgantown. It has been estimated that to operate Opekiska and Hildebrand locks 24 hours per day through the recreational season would cost an additional $280,000 or $560,000 for all-year operation. The funding to cover this additional operation would have to come at the expense of critical maintenance, such as two lock filling/emptying valve repairs: 1) renovating a Butterfly Valve and operating machinery at Morgantown Lock and Dam ($355,000); and 2) renovating a Tainter Valve and operating machinery at Pike Island Locks and Dam on the mainstream Ohio River ($435,000). Basing the operation of lower use locks upon the desires of recreational boaters for 24 hours per day/365 days per year does not make good financial sense given the current Corps budget and critical needs at our Civil Works projects.
Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions regarding this issue.
/s/ Charles M. Hess
Chief, Operations Division
Directorate of Civil Works