Groups Want Mon Locks Open for Recreation
The State Journal
3 October 2013
By Jim Ross
A bass tournament Oct. 5-6 will allow people to enjoy something
that's a rarity in North Central West Virginia nowadays — the
opportunity to take a boat from Morgantown to Fairmont on the
"It's a tremendous river. The fishery's increased tremendously
over the past several years," said Tim Mitchem, president of
B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia.
As water quality has improved, the river is supporting more
vegetation, which supports more of the bait fish that bass eat,
"In this area, it's one of the rivers people really, really enjoy
fishing on. For tournament fishermen, you can do quite well on the
river," Mitchem said.
But it's not something that has been enjoyed often since last
fall, when the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers closed the locks at the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks
and dams to recreational boating and restricted hours at the
Morgantown Lock and Dam.
But on this weekend, the locks will be open.
B.A.S.S. Nation West Virginia expects to have 55 to 60 boats in
the tournament with two people per boat. Each participant from out
of the area will likely spend $500 during the weekend, Mitchem
The tournament would not be possible without the locks being open,
"Restricted to one pool, that's not enough water for us. We're
appreciative to the corps for opening the locks for us," he said.
An organization that monitors water quality on the Mon says it
wants to work with the corps to find ways to keep the locks open
for recreation craft.
"Fishing issues are very much affected by the corps' closed
locks," said Barry Palley, president of the Upper Mon River
Association. "You can't have a competitive fishing industry in one
The Morgantown Lock and Dam operates its lock for one shift a day
five days a week. The locks at Hildebrand and Opekiska are totally
closed to all traffic whether it be commercial or recreation.
But the Pittsburgh District does not have the money to staff the
locks more than that, Palley said. The corps closed Opekiska and
Hildebrand on Oct. 1, 2012, because there was not enough
commercial traffic to justify their continued operation, and the
corps does not count recreation traffic as sufficient reason to
continue lock operations, Palley said.
The locks on the upper Mon had enough traffic until the Clean Air
Act virtually eliminate the demand for the high-sulfur coal that
once moved on the river, Palley said.
"The upper Mon River and the locks and dams are critical
infrastructure for our commerce, recreation and economic
development," he said. "The public and our institutions need to
open Opekiska and Hildebrand and increase the operating hours of
Use of the upper Mon has changed, and the growth in recreation use
of the river is reason enough to re-open the locks, Palley said.
"It's beautiful between (Morgantown) and Fairmont, the Mon River,"
But a person cannot take a pleasure boat or a fishing boat from
Morgantown to Fairmont because of Hildebrand and Opekiska. Making
the river more inaccessible is the fact there is no public access
to the Mon in the Hildebrand pool, that is, the part of the river
between the Hildebrand and Opekiska dams.
The UMRA offered to operate the locks itself, Palley said. The
down side was the corps said the UMRA would be liable for anything
that happened to the locks, no matter who was responsible. That
stipulation took the agreement off the table, Palley said.
Then the corps suggested that the UMRA or another entity pay the
corps to operate the locks. That is similar to an arrangement the
Pittsburgh District has with a group on the Allegheny River,
But last week the corps concluded it did not have the authority to
take private funds to pay for the locks' operation, Palley said.
So, the group is working with the West Virginia Public Port
Authority to see if it can fund the locks' operation or be a
pass-through agency for such funding, Palley said.
The UMRA is also working with members of the county commissions of
Monongalia and Marion counties to see if either would be
interested in the task, Palley said.
"Hopefully, one of those three would be one that makes the most
sense in our work with the corps," he said.
Neither the corps nor the Public Port Authority responded to
requests for comment.