Keep Locks on River Open

Key to preventing facilities from closing is a dialogue

Morgantown Dominion Post Editorial
5 August 2012

Could the Monongahela River run dry of recreational boaters?

That’s not to say there will be no boaters on the river. However, they may be unable to move from one pool of this waterway to another in 2013.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing to shutter two area locks — Hildebrand and Opekiska — on the upper end of the river by October 2013 because of proposed federal spending cuts and lack of traffic. There will be no public access to the Hildebrand pool if the Corps closes this lock.

In 2011, nearly 500 recreational boaters used the locks, while commercial vessel traffic between these two locks is virtually nonexistent.

The Corps is also proposing to drastically reduce operating hours at the Morgantown lock. That change would likely take effect in October 2013.

It may come as a surprise but no one pays for the privilege of using these locks, although a portion of taxes on diesel fuel — 24.4 cents per gallon — is allocated to maintain and operate them.

In recent months, one local organization, the Upper Mon River Association (UMRA), has rejected this plan and lobbied local governments to support its position.

So far, the Marion County Commission has, while Morgantown’s and Fairmont’s city councils, and the Monongalia County Commission are considering UMRA’s plan.

UMRA’s leaders say closing the locks would stymie future economic and river development.

We probably would not be so quick to endorse UMRA’s resolution and urge local governments to do the same, if it did not indicate that it’s willing to compromise.

As a matter of fact, UMRA’s resolution describes options that the group say are acceptable, including keeping the locks open 45 days annually, instead of the 90 now. It also asks the Corps to find alternative ways to fund operation of the locks, which could include cost sharing by governments.

What’s on tap with this resolution is still to be determined.

But the Corps and UMRA are not adversaries. That said, we recommend they and others begin meeting soon and find a solution that’s good for everyone and for the Corps’ budget.

No one can overstate the importance of the upper Monongahela River to our region and its impact on our economic development and commerce. For instance, it hosts more than 30 fishing tournaments.

Some say this river runs in reverse, because it flows northward. However, if the corps closes these locks our region will take a step backward.