Talks to Open Mon River Locks Set
Estimated annual cost is $40,000
Morgantown Dominion Post
22 September 2014
By David Beard
The Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA) is poised to begin
talks with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to reopen several
locks to boaters.
UMRA President Barry Pallay said the organization received verbal
notification from two Corps officials, and is awaiting formal
notice of the composition of the Corps negotiating team.
The goal, he said, is to have the Corps operate the Opekiska and
Hildebrand locks two weekends per month from April through
October, starting in 2015, and to keep the Morgantown locks open
on weekends year-round.
The association aims to do this by paying the corps to operate the
locks during those times, Pallay said. It’s called a “contributed
funds” arrangement, and UMRA is securing financial partners to
cover the estimated annual cost.
Corps spokesman Dan Jones said Congress enabled this arrangement
through the Water Resources Development Act, signed by the
president in June. That gave the Corps the OK to start
negotiations with UMRA. A couple things to work out will be the
exact cost – determined by the number of days the locks would be
open – and the precise mechanism for accepting the money.
The Monongalia County Commission made the formal request to the
Corps to begin the process, County Administrator Diane DeMedici
said. The county will also act as the pass-through agency to send
the money to the Corps. Money would be collected and sent next
Pallay said, “We want to increase the commerce on the Upper Mon
River and help make it, once again, an economic driver. “…There’s
a lot riding on negotiating the agreements and getting final
For example, he said, Marion County has come on board as a
coalition partner. The county has committed to a weekend regional
bass tournament – a national qualifier – in June 2015. It won the
bid on the condition the locks are open and would draw bass
enthusiasts from five surrounding states, bringing in a possible
County Administrator Kris Cinalli couldn’t be reached for details
on the county’s role.
Pallay said more tournaments, more activities, more boaters and,
eventually more commercial traffic could add up to significant
Right now, the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks are closed, except
for special weekend occasions, and the Morgantown locks operate
for commercial traffic Mondays-Fridays 7AM-3PM. As previously
reported, federal budget cuts have closed locks or cut back
operating hours across the nation.
In 2012, Pallay said, the Corps informed UMRA of the likelihood of
service reductions, and in 2013 it closed Opekiska and Hildebrand
and eliminated Morgantown’s weekend hours.
The Corps rejected UMRA’S proposal for the group to operate the
locks, but allowed it to move forward on the contributed funds
The approach required significant red tape, Pallay said. Local
partnerships, approval at three levels of command, more approval
in several US House and Senate committees and an OK from the
assistant secretary of the Army.
“This is all to give them money to operate the locks.”
Pallay credited reps David McKinley, Nick Rahall and Shelley Moore
Capito, and Sen. Joe Manchin, for their work in pushing the effort
He also thanked the Mon County Commission and Marion County
Commission for their work. Other local organizations and agencies
will be approached about contributing funds.
And across the Pennsylvania border, the Allegheny River
Development Corp. (ARDC) has been doing the same work, Pallay
said, to open four locks there – with members of that
Congressional delegation also pitching in. That effort will cost
about $140,000 a year.
Ultimately, Palley said, after a few years of increased traffic,
the UMRA and the ARDC would like to see the Corps resume the
financial responsibility for operating the locks – as it realizes
the financial benefits.
UMRA doesn’t have a timeline for completing the negotiations,
Pallay said. The first item is getting the official word on the
THE DOMINION POST solicited comments about the locks project from
the four lawmakers Pallay named.
McKinely said, “Keeping our waterways open are vital for commerce,
recreation and economic development. The upper Monongahela River
Association has worked tirelessly for past few years to keep the
locks open and we are proud to have played a role in helping them.
We look forward to working with them in the coming months to see
this through to fruition.”
Capito said, “As a conferee on the Water Resources Development
Act, I was pleased to work with the Upper Monongahela River
Association and local residents to secure a provision in the law
that allows the Corps of Engineers to use privately contributed
funds for lock operations. Allowing local communities to pull
together to provide these resources is a commonsense way to use
our water infrastructure and benefit our state’s economy and
quality of life.”
Rahall was traveling and not available to comment. Manchin did not
respond in time for this report.