Service Cuts in Store for Upper Monongahela River

6 July 2012
By Stacy Moniot, Anchor/Reporter

You can click on dam photo to get Stacy’s tv report.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is considering reducing service on the Upper Monongahela River to save money.

"Over the last couple of years, it's become obvious because of funding limitations and because of the deterioration of some of the locks and dams over the Mon River that we were eventually going to be looking at reductions in service," said Barry Pallay, vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association. "Now, it's on us."

Pallay said that could mean a drastic change in how businesses and boaters use the river.

"In West Virginia, these locks and dams are critical infrastructure and the possibility that they may close and we might lose them will have serious short term and long term implications," he said.

As the USACE implements new guidelines for operations across the country, areas like the Upper Mon face the same challenges.

Pallay said part of the problem stems from the drop-off of commercial goods shipped on waterways. The age of locks and dams is making maintenance more difficult and costly.

After the service reduction, commercial vessels may only pass through locks by appointment. Other boats could be stuck.

"There's no final decision, but we're probably going to be looking at the closure of Opekiska and Hildebrand locks permanently after this summer season to recreation boating," Pallay said.

That would moor boats in their individual "pools." Boaters from Prickett's Fort in Marion County wouldn't be able to sail to Morgantown, for example. That could effect the area's many fishing tournaments and any potential riverfront development.

"Very bad, as far as economic development is concerned," Pallay said. "There is no public access in the Hildebrand pool. So if the locks are closed permanently after this summer, you won't be able to get into that wonderful stretch of river.

Pallay said one of the biggest concerns is whether the USACE will provide funding for maintenance, to keep the door open for their use in the future.

The cuts may not be so severe, or other accommodations put into place for commercial or recreational boaters, but Pallay said it's up to boaters, businesses, and government officials to speak up at a public hearing.

"To weigh in on the importance both from a recreation standpoint and from an economic development standpoint the importance of these locks to West Virginia economic development, short term and long term," Pallay said.

That public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 17 from 6 p.m.- 8 p.m. in the National Resources National Research Center for Coal and Energy building on West Virginia University's Evansdale Campus.

Agenda for meeting