Lock Reductions Threaten Navigation On Ouachita River

The Waterways Journal
13 February 2012
By David Murray

Under continued funding pressure, the Corps of Engineers has proposed a plan to reduce lock hours on the Ouachita River system, and mayors of communities on the river are up in arms, the Monroe (Ark.) News Star reported February 7.

The Corps' proposal would reduce the current 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation on the river's four locks to an 18-hour, seven-day-a-week operation at the Jonesville and Columbia locks in Louisiana and a 16-hour Friday, Saturday and Sunday schedule at the Felsenthal and Thatcher locks in Arkansas. The proposed reductions would not take effect until October.

During a February 7 meeting with the Corps on the issue in Monroe. stake-holders said the plan would "kill commercial navigation in southern Arkansas" and could eventually do the same down river in Louisiana.

"You can kiss the upper Ouachita goodbye," said Camden, Ark., Mayor Chris Claybaker during the meeting, which was held at the Tensas Basin Levee District headquarters.

Randy Martin-Nez of Golding Barge Line agreed. "You're giving the death penalty by strangulation to the upper locks," Martin-Nez said.

Though the shippers said the reduced schedule in Louisiana will have little impact, they fear a trickle-down effect will ultimately lead to a more drastic schedule reduction downriver.

"I hope this isn't the beginning of the end, but it sure feels like it," said John Stringer, executive director of the Tensas Basin Levee District and vice president of the Ouachita River Valley Association.

"I see us spiraling down unless we can stop it and do something," said John Hoopaugh of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Company.

Paul Trichell, executive director of the Greater Ouachita Port, West Monroe, La., said he was disappointed in the plan. "We're continually marketing the river as an option for freight transportation, and obviously continuing in this direction hampers these efforts," he said.

The reduced hours will drastically affect recreational use as well, said Ouachita River Valley Association executive director Bill Hobgood, especially at Thatcher and Felsenthal, where he estimated more than 700 recreational boats are locked through each year.

"The south central Arkansas area from Felsenthal north is one of the most heavily used for recreation," Hobgood said.

Keith Garrison, executive director of the Arkansas Waterways Association, told The Waterways Journal that while water-borne commercial traffic to Ouachita River towns like Camden is sometimes slack, it does occur in bursts. All the communities along the river tout their river lo-cation in their plans to attract businesses, and all want to expand use of the river for commercial transportation, he said.

Congressman Tries to Save Locks

In an effort to protect the Ouachita River locks from cuts, U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) introduced an amendment to a House bill, H.R. 3521 or the Expedited Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act, sponsored by Paul Ryan in November. Alexanders's amendment would have prevented the president from executing line-item vetoes on items in the Corps budget.

In a February 8 press release, he said, "I believe we must prevent any president — Republican or Democrat — from having the authority to reduce funding for critical water resource projects. That is why I introduced this amendment, which will simply prevent the president from using any authority granted by this legislation to propose a rescission to the budget of the Corps of Engineers."

The House passed the bill, which went to the Senate, but without Alexander's amendment — despite strong support from Louisiana's delegates.