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
"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
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
"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
"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