County Aims to Open Locks

will act as fund conduit

Morgantown Dominion Post
29 December 2013
By Ben Conley

The Monongalia County Commission will lend its support to reopening the Monongahela River locks in the county by acting as a conduit through which funds can pass en route to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).

During its Dec. 18 meeting, the commission approved a letter to the ACOE Pittsburgh District requesting permission to act as the public pass-through for contributions. The letter also asks that the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA) be allowed to represent the commission in negotiating the agreement’s details.

The ACOE announced that budget cuts were behind a 2012 decision to eliminate recreational use of the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks and reduce service on the Morgantown lock.

UMRA President Barry Pallay said his group negotiated that the ACOE man the locks for recreational use for a total of six days this past boating season — roughly from April through October. However, the government shutdown wiped out two of those days, severely affecting a qualifying leg of a national BASS tournament.

Something needed to change, Pallay said.

“What we’re working on is a better fix to this problem,” he said. “We ’re going to ask for something around 30 days between April and October, and we’re going to use a contributed funds approach in order to have the locks open.”

In other words, the UMRA is going to come up with a way to fund the operation of the locks for those 30 days. Pallay said that the going rate to have an ACOE employee man the lock is $61 per hour.

Pallay said this is “the best temporary solution to the problem of our locks being closed.” He said the best long-term solution is the ACOE operating them full-time like it has in the past.

Pallay said that once the ACOE approves the terms of the letter, a committee will be formed for the purpose of raising the funds needed to open the locks.

Because federal law states that the ACOE can only deal with public entities, the county commission will act as a go-between.

“The Monongalia County Commission would be the public pass-through body in which different groups that need the locks open for their tournaments or events can use us to pass through to the Army Corps of Engineers,” Commission President Eldon Callen said.

Pallay said that no matter how few the days are, it’s vital that the river is not lost entirely as an economic resource.

“If you look now, we don’t have hardly any commercial traffic,” he said. “So what we’re talking about is allowing the recreational industry to grow and flourish as a replacement for some of that commercial traffic.”