Crisis, Hope On The Rivers
The Waterways Journal - Editorial
25 March 2013
It’s odd to think of the devastating flood of 2011 and the ongoing
drought as helping to save the waterways system, but that could
happen. Together, those two events focused unprecedented attention
from the “regular” media on the perilous state of the nation’s
broken and crumbling waterways system, helped by the collaborative
efforts of the American Waterways Operators, Waterways Council
Inc. and other friends of the waterways, who worked together.
The floods and drought accelerated the damage to our decades-old
locks and dams. In the latest news, the Montgomery locks at
Monaca, Pa., part of a strategic series of Ohio River navigation
facilities, need to be dewatered for desperately needed repairs.
There’s only one problem: after dewatering, “there’s a good chance
[the lock walls] will fall,” said Col. Bernard Lindstrom,
Pittsburgh Engineer District commander. He said the locks “are in
such bad condition that they spurt water; when the river is high,
it shoots five to six feet in the air.” The problem threatens the
movement of about $5.6 billion worth of materials through the
local waterways, according to a Corps spokesman.
The timing of this particular announcement may be a bit of
“sequester theater;” the Beaver County Times said, “Budget
cuts triggered by the sequestration may very well cause the
Montgomery Locks in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, to collapse.”
According to the March 8 Capitol Currents, publication of
The Waterways Council, the “long-feared sequestration” has
automatically forced across-the-board cuts in funding for most
federal departments and agencies, including the Corps and Coast
Guard. “While not felt immediately, transportation stands to take
a hit—not just in on-going construction (like port-deepening
projects) and essential lock maintenance but at deep-draft docks,
navigation locks, airports, etc. Officials are already cutting
back on overtime and handing out notices of possible furloughs,
some as much as one day per week.”
But the sequester is only the immediate news hook. Everyone
connected with the waterway system knows that its infrastructure
is indeed crumbling and has been for many years.
This year, though, such stories are getting more attention.
Several bills working their way through Congress have features
sought for years by waterways interests. Let’s hope a dent has
finally been made in that neglect that has been the main obstacle
to fixing our waterways.