Closed Locks Planned

Proposal to end weekend hours

Morgantown Dominion Post
8 July 2012
By Cassie Shaner

A PUBLIC MEETING on the proposed service reduction will be at 6 p.m. July 17, at WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy, Assembly Room 101 A/B, Evansdale campus.

The Hildebrand and Opekiska locks may be closed to recreational boaters by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), due to national budget cuts.

Spokesman Dan Jones said a proposed service reduction plan for the upper Monongahela River involves eliminating weekend and holiday hours during the summer. Both locks would only be accessible to commercial vessels by appointment, as they are in the winter.

Jones said operating hours at the Morgantown lock would also be reduced, from eight hours daily to eight hours on weekends and holidays only.

The changes would likely take effect in October 2013, at the beginning of the USACE’s 2014 fiscal year. Jones said they were prompted by new guidelines that designate service levels for locks nationwide, based on usage.

“We want to get our money to the facilities that are used the most,” he said. “We’re not doing this for the sake of doing it. The funding is driving this.”

During the 2011 fiscal year, Jones said there were 169 recreational lockages at Hildebrand, 312 recreational lockages at Opekiska and 322 recreational lockages at Morgantown.

In that same year, there were 132 commercial lockages at Morgantown and two each at Hildebrand and Opekiska.

By comparison, Jones noted that Lock 3, in Elizabeth, Pa., and Lock 4, in Charleroi, Pa., each had more than 5,000 commercial and recreational lockages.

Lana Smith lives on the Tygart River. She and her family travel through four locks to camp in Point Marion, Pa., at least once a year.

“I would hate it if the locks would close,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of fun. We camp. We eat along the river. It’s a wonderful trip.”

Smith said her family used to make the trip more often, sometimes traveling through an extra lock to visit friends in Palmer, Pa., but the current hours have limited their trips.

“If they shut the locks down, we’re done. No more camping,” she said.

John Burdette, president of the West Virginia Bass Federation, said 60 teams competed in a June fishing competition in Morgantown. Many fishermen stayed overnight, brought their families and ate at area restaurants, but that could change if the locks close.

“Once they close the locks, there will be no access” to the Hildebrand and Morgantown pools of water, Burdette said. Boats typically go in at Pricketts Fort, where they would be restricted to the Opekiska pool.

Jones said the locks may be open for special events, such as fishing tournaments. Burdette said USACE officials told him they might be willing to do two tournaments a year, but he noted that other organizations have tournaments, too.

Smith is concerned about the economic impact on Fairmont’s waterfront, which city officials have worked to revive. She said it’s great for fishing or waterskiing, but noted that some people can’t transport their boats by trailer to enjoy the area.

Jones said USACE officials are open to suggestions and alternatives to keep the locks open. He urged area residents to attend a July 17 public meeting to provide input.

COMMENTS ON THE proposal can be sent by email to celrp-pa@usace. or mailed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Upper Mon River Ser vice Reduction, 1000 Liber ty Ave., 22nd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.