Letter dated 17 July 2000, from Senator Byrd:
Dear Mr. Strimbeck:
Thank you for your most recent communications of my office further regarding recreational boating on the Monongahela River.
I note your disappointment with the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers June 28, 2000, letter to me which I received in response to my inquiry about the hours of operation of the locks and dam on the Monongahela River. Although Corps officials advised that there are no plans to reduce hours of service at any of the Corps locks on the Monongahela River, you express concern about future reductions in hours of operation should commercial traffic on the river decline. I further note your suggestion that legislation be introduced to include recreation as an authorized purpose for locks and dams throughout the country as a means to protect against the potential for decreased hours and advocate for increased hours of operation of the locks and dams on our nations navigable rivers.
Like you, I believe that the rivers and waterways in West Virginia, as they wind between our states grand mountains, provide some of the most breathtaking views in the nation. I can, therefore, understand your support for recreational boating on the Monongahela River. With respect to the legislation that you suggest, the Committee on Environment and Public Works is the Senate committee of jurisdiction for issues relating to the Corps. Any legislation introduced to authorize recreation as a purpose for the locks and dams would be referred to this committee for consideration. I do not serve on this committee, and, therefore, would have little involvement in determining whether such legislation would receive consideration or action by the committee. Additionally, it is important to understand that currently, Congress is focusing its attention on passing the remaining appropriations bills in the limited time remaining in the 106th Congress.
The cost associated with changing the law as you suggest is also a consideration. As you are no doubt aware, the budgetary situation in Congress is contentious given the intense competition for limited funding. Even if such legislation were passed, identifying funding to support the resulting increase in hours of operation of the locks and dams would be very difficult. You should be aware that in the Senate, the Corps Fiscal Year 2001 budget has been cut $22 million from last years level. Thus, current budget priorities allow sufficient funding only for the existing hours of operation for commercial navigation.
Nevertheless, in an effort to obtain more information regarding this issue and the impacts of such legislation, I am contacting Corps officials in Washington. I am asking headquarters officials to provide me with any material available pertaining to the growth and economic impact of recreational boating, as you referenced. I am also asking Corps officials to provide me with information estimating the costs associated with legislation such as you propose. As soon as this information is received, you will hear from me again.
With kind regards, I am
/s/ Robert C. Byrd