Groups Traveling Uncharted Waters to Open Allegheny, Monongahela
Kittanning Leader Times
20 September 2014
By Julie E. Martin
There's good news and bad news for two groups negotiating with the
Army Corps of Engineers to open locks to recreational boat traffic
on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
The good news is they are leading the way for groups around the
country who want to contribute funds to operate federal locks. The
bad news? Because it's never been done before, the process will
likely be fraught with bureaucracy as the groups make their way
through uncharted waters.
“What it really means to me is its going to take more time, which
is something we just don't have,” said Corps engineer Lenna
Hawkins serves as a liaison between her agency and groups like the
Allegheny River Development Corporation, the Armstrong County
nonprofit that has been working to get the locks opened since they
were closed in 2012.
ARDC and a similar group in West Virginia have a chance to have
the locks opened on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers next
ARDC estimates it can give $150,000 to cover lock operations on
weekends, holidays and special events. The Upper Monongahela River
Association in West Virginia plans to open locks on its river
every other weekend for about $40,000 — funds it will get with
help from counties in its region.
Federal budget cuts closed Armstrong County locks in Clinton,
Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer in 2012. Two Upper Monongahela
River locks near Morgantown suffered the same fate soon after.
Both systems are open for commercial travel by appointment.
Both of the locked-out regions have experienced a drop in tourism
and recreational business. Tourism analysis of the Pittsburgh
region bears that out, according to ARDC President Linda Hemmes.
“The year locks closed, dining out dollars dropped by $400,000 in
Armstrong County,” she said.
Likewise, the “Upper Mon” has felt the pain, said UMRA President
“Tournaments have been impaired. Boating has been impaired. It has
harmed the number of passages and resulted in fishing tournaments
and other events going elsewhere,” he said.
The Corps gave the two groups the go-ahead last month to use local
funds for lock operations. They are waiting for a chance to
negotiate with the Corps to determine how payments will be made.
For instance, it's not been determined whether the private groups
will pay directly, or if the money will have to be funneled
through a board like county government on its way to the Corps.
Because such an agreement has never been reached, working out the
details may take longer than expected, Hawkins said.
“Breaking new ground means people will be more conservative and
looking into what the ramifications are,” she said.
“Since this is unique, more time will be spent assuring it is done
correctly because this may be used again across the country.”
While details are being worked out, ARDC's focus remains on
fundraising, boosted by recent news that state Rep. Jeff Pyle,
R-Ford City, is trying to get a state transportation grant from
PennDOT that would cover 75 percent of the cost of keeping the
locks open next year.
If the agreement with the Corps can be worked out before next
summer, locks will be opened as many times as the ARDC or UMRA can
afford. Hemmes estimated it costs about $2,700 a day to operate
Hemmes said she has no doubt ARDC can raise enough funds with
private contributions and membership drives to keep the locks open
each weekend next season, even without the help of a state grant.
She expects to pull donors from the 60-mile stretch of river
between Pittsburgh and East Brady.
“My money's on there being $150,000 in the pockets of business,
boaters and industry that want these locks open and operational
during the recreational boating season,” she said. “I think it's
going to require work, but I don't think it's insurmountable by
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be
reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://triblive.com/news/armstrong/6821323-74/locks-groups-open#ixzz3DsfhGdGv