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Nonprofit makes proposal to keep locks open on Allegheny River

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:07 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 5 in South Buffalo, shown on Dec. 4, 2012, no longer is open to recreational boaters due to decreased operating money from the Army Corps of Engineers. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 5 in South Buffalo, shown on Dec. 4, 2012, no longer is open to recreational boaters due to decreased operating money from the Army Corps of Engineers. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Fighting service cuts at four locks in the upper pools of the Allegheny River, a nonprofit group has proposed to supply workers to operate those locks next year.

The Allegheny River Development Corp., a nonprofit promoting the continued operation of the locks and recreational boating, recently submitted a proposed five-year agreement to the Army Corps of Engineers to operate Locks 6 (Clinton), 7 (Kittanning), 8 (Templeton) and 9 (Rimer).

After budget cuts and shifting of resources, the Army Corps announced in October that it would cut service for recreational boat traffic at Locks 6 and 7 in January.

The agency had already discontinued recreational boat service last year at Locks 5 and 6 because of dwindling commercial boat traffic and decreasing operating money.

“This is the first jump out of the box, and we believe it gives us our best chance,” said Mark Devinney, president of ARDC and vice president of Freeport Terminals Inc. in Freeport.

Devinney and other board members have been meeting with Corps officials for several months to discuss a public/private partnership and other options to keep the locks open.

“It's just the beginning stages, and we hope to make this work for the 2013 boating season,” Devinney said.

The proposal includes provisions for the Allegheny River Development Corp. to pay employees or use volunteers to operate Locks 6, 7, 8, 9 for undisclosed times from April to October. The pact also calls for the ARDC to provide as much as $1 million in insurance.

“Our chances of success are much greater in the future if we can move the Corps away from potential liabilities,” Devinney said.

The Pittsburgh District of the Corps of Engineers is reviewing the proposed agreement and is planning to sit down with the ARDC sometime in January, according to Dan Jones, Corps spokesman.

It's worked elsewhere

Other agencies have taken over Corps locks in different parts of the country before, according to Jones.

“There are still a lot of factors we have to look at in order to make this happen,” Jones said. “This is a first step in the process. We both still have a lot of work to do.”

Devinney added that ARDC efforts to keep the locks open to recreational boat traffic is backed by a dozen local and regional governments.

Armstrong County Commissioner Dave Battaglia said: “The board of commissioners does support the efforts of the Allegheny River Development Corp. We also need to explore public/private partnerships. We will also work with elected officials at the state and federal levels.”

Commissioner Rich Fink wants federal elected officials to restore funding to the Corps budget.

“But, at the same time, (we need to) explore and evaluate public/private partnerships as a possible solution,” Fink said. “If this issue isn't resolved, it will have economic implications to our communities and county as a whole.”

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com.

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