Plan Begins to Form for Allegheny River's Locks

4 April 2011
By Mitch Fryer

Public and private partnerships, such as the New York Canal, Willamette Falls and the Kentucky River Authority, have worked well in support of river travel in other parts of the country.

A task force being formed in Armstrong County is looking at those ventures as a model for keeping the Allegheny River's system of locks and dams sustained.

"We need to get the New York Canal information. It's pretty interesting," Armstrong County Commissioner Jim Scahill said. "It goes the whole length, it connects the Hudson (River) to Lake Erie. You'll find a lot of good topics in there. Find some good stuff. It could help us figure how to transition from public to private."

The county commissioner-led group announced a preliminary plan of action Friday in response to the Army Corps of Engineers recent Allegheny Locks and Dam Service Reduction Plan which includes the closure of Lock 8 in Templeton and Lock 9 in Rimer to recreational boaters because of federal budget cuts. Those locks will stay open for commercial traffic by appointment.

The task force's plan includes these points:

• All (of the eight locks and dams on the Allegheny River) in question will collectively be regarded as a single entity. Therefore, recreational and commercial operation must be maintained for each, the group said.

"If we treat it as a single system of river locks, it's much better than carving off locks," said Scahill. "You must go to this unified system that runs through Armstrong County, not pieces of a system, and that's what's happening here. You need all the locks open to do it properly."

• Sustaining and developing commercial waterway traffic is an essential component as it provides access to recurrent funding for maintenance of the locks.

• Short-term funding for operation of the locks must be identified and secured.

• The public private partnership is to be developed.

Commissioner Patty Kirkpatrick talked about forming a nonprofit organization in order to sustain the locks.

"There has to be some type of organization in place," she said.

Kirkpatrick cited two other partnerships the county has with the Corps of Engineers -- the Milton Loop campground where the county sublets the land to a private individual and the Environmental Learning Center, which is run by the Armstrong Educational Trust. In both cases, the county has struck an agreement with the corps to keep those facilities running on corps property.

The organization will look at potential money-making opportunities, such as fees for service, but the models

of other partnerships will help in those avenues, she said.

"We don't know how they operate these other facilities," she said. "The recreational boaters are the most impacted."

Maintenance should continue to be on the federal government, she said.

The county commissioners have been in touch with more than 100 local businesses, organizations and residents by e-mail who are interested in participating on a task force, she said.

"But we're going to need a working group," she said, of dedicated people who will work to keep the locks open.

The commissioners said that any person, business, organization or community wanting to become a part of the task force can contact them at 724-548-3215 or e-mail.

Commissioner Rich Fink wants to start the process by working with federal officials to try to restore the lost federal dollars for the locks.

"I'm not putting high hopes in that," Fink said. "But I'm not willing to let that option go either."

Finks puts his faith in the task force that's forming.

"The corps is giving us some scenarios of things that are working in other parts of the country," he said.

"We'll look at those and find a solution somewhere in it to sustain (our river traffic)."

Mitch Fryer can be reached at or 724-543-1303 x1342.