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Hours to expand at some Valley locks, dams

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 11:27 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispach
The Lock and Dam #5 above Freeport on the Allegheny River. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Stable funding for the Army Corps of Engineers in the region will allow the Corps to return to extended summer hours for boaters at some locks and dams on the Allegheny River.

The locks at Highland Park (No. 2), Plum (No. 3) and Natrona (No. 4) will be open 24 hours a day starting May 6, according to acting Public Affairs Chief Sheila Tunney.

Tunney said the recent rising budget numbers will allow for extended summer hours.

Last year, those locks only were open for 16 hours.

The lock at Schenley (No. 5) will be expanded from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

All of the locks north of that — Clinton, Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer — continue to be closed indefinitely except for commercial and emergency use.

In recent years, tight purse strings caused the Corps to focus more money on the Monongahela and Ohio, because of heavier industrial use on those rivers. At the same time, the Allegheny River's locks hours were cut last summer.

And under President Obama's proposed budget, lock and dams on the Allegheny River will be getting a little more next year.

The president's fiscal year 2014 budget allocates $4.8 billion for the Civil Works program of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Pittsburgh branch of the Corps' Civil Works program will get about $4.9 million in fiscal 2014 toward its facilities on the Allegheny River. Fiscal 2014 starts in October.

The Pittsburgh Corps' budget has been steadily growing again since it was slashed from $8.4 million in 2011, to $4 million in 2012 and $4.3 million this fiscal year.

But the Corps is still hamstrung, and the extra money is not enough to have a major impact on the Allegheny River, according to Tunney.

“It's really not that much more money,” she said of the extra $600,00 the Corps is getting to use on the Alle-Kiski Valley's main waterway. “It just increases the maintenance we're able to perform.”

NUMEC cleanup money trimmed

Tunney said the president's proposed budget reflects a small cut in funding for the Shallow Lands Disposal Area project to clean up the former NUMEC nuclear waste dump in Parks Township, but it shouldn't have a huge effect on the project.

The project will get about $12 million next year, down from $14.4 million this year.

The cleanup is expected take about eight to 10 years to complete with a price tag of about $120 million,

“We're still crunching all the numbers, but it shouldn't stop anything,” Tunney said.

Tunney said the Pittsburgh Corps expected its budget allotment to be a lot less than it is in the president's proposal but, the Corps isn't sure if any major projects in Western Pennsylvania will be affected.

“As far as the Allegheny goes, it's about same as last year.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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