Allegheny River Locks 6 and 7 closed for recreational boating
Linda Hemmes of Kittanning has fond memories of boating along the Allegheny River and has traveled through Lock 6 in Clinton and Lock 7 in Kittanning countless times during the past 50 years.
But those days of recreational travel down river to Pittsburgh or up river to East Brady have come to a grinding halt.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that Locks 6 and 7 have been closed for recreational boat lockage.
The locks will remain operational for commercial vessels only by appointment.
The announcement initially was made at a meeting at the Crooked Creek Lake office in Bethel Township to a small group of stakeholders and county and state representatives.
Armstrong County Commissioners Dave Battaglia and Robert Fink who attended the meeting did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Jeff Hawk, public affairs officer with the Corps Pittsburgh district, said the decision to reduce service at Locks 6 and 7 is a result of a decrease in federal funds
Funds for the Allegheny River navigation system were cut in half in 2011 and went from $8.4 million to $4 million.
According to the Corps' website, the fiscal year 2013 budget includes $133 million in new federal funding for the district's Civil Works Program. Of that amount, $4.3 million has been allocated for operations and maintenance of the Allegheny River – similar to last year's allocation.
The decision to permanently close Locks 6 and 7 to recreational boat lockage is based on the budget reduction which has continued into this fiscal year, said Hawk.
He said the guidelines for the Inland Marine Transportation System dictates the levels of service at which the locks can operate according to the traffic they receive.
“The navigation industry pays a 20-cents-a-gallon diesel fuel tax that goes into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), which pays for half of the major rehabilitation projects and new construction of navigation facilities,” said Hawk.
“The federal government matches that cost share. This issue is that the IWTF doesn't create enough revenue to meet the needs of the system.
He said the changes in the levels of service at each lock are happening nationwide in order to reduce costs by standardizing lock service based on usage. Lock usage will be reviewed annually and adjustments can be made if needed.
Hawk said Locks 6 and 7 fall under the lowest levels (level 6) of commercial and recreational lockage. In fiscal year 2011, Lock 6 had 22 lockages for commercial vessels and 308 for recreational boats. Lock 7 had 16 commercial lockages and 406 recreational.
By comparison, Hawk said at Lock 2 in Allegheny County, there were 1,291 commercial lockages last year and 2,096 recreational lockages.
“We have a system that is aging, fatigued and deteriorating,” said Hawk.
“With a limited budget, we have to look at where we can get a return on investment. It's where we're at with our budget situation.” Hawk said that in other regions of the country, some communities started private/public partnerships to keep locks open.
Hemmes said she plans to dig in and fight for unhindered access along the river.
She is one of the organizers of the reactivated Allegheny River Development Corporation (ARDC) which is focused on seeking funding to keep the river's locks and dams operational and open to all commercial and recreational vessels.
“At this point our battle is more uphill, but it's not insurmountable,” said Hemmes.
She said ARDC has recently elected a board and officers and that more than 100 participants have joined the group.
Hemmes said she believes a lot of businesses will be adversely affected by the Corps's decision.
“We're losing accessibility to a tremendously beautiful resource,” said Hemmes. “It's too valuable of an asset to our region to let it go.”
Bill Knopp, co-owner of the Rosston Eddy Marina along the river in Manor Township, attended Wednesday's stakeholder meeting and said he believed the number of vessels seeking lockage at 6 and 7 decreased in recent years because of a decrease in the hours of operation.
Last year the locks were only open 16 hours a week for four months in the year, said Knopp.
“How many boats can we put through in that time?” asked Knopp.
He said people who have large boats at the marina tend to dock there because it provides them with the possibility of travel along the length of the river system.
Now, according to what the Corps told him, people who own boats that can't be pulled by trailers will be able to lock down river one time next year if they want to permanently relocate their boats.
Knopp said people opposed to the operation changes need to call their elected officials.
“Everyone wants to form a committee,” said Knopp. “What do you think would be more effective, 200 phone calls or one letter with 200 signatures? Pick up the phone and let people know you're unhappy.”
Arts on the Allegheny chairwoman Mary Ann Valasek said she believes the changes will have an impact on future concerts, reducing overall attendance from boaters in the region.
“Boaters add such a special dimension to the concerts,” said Valasek. “It's something the artists always comment on.”
The Corps will hold a public meeting at Ford City High School on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. concerning the lock changes.
In a statement released by his office. Sen. Pat Tomney said: “I have long advocated for reforming the piecemeal and inefficient funding process the Army Corps has in place. Before our region's locks and dams face a major catastrophe, Congress must address this important issue. Katelyn King, my Southwest Pennsylvania field representative, met with the Army Corp yesterday in Armstrong County to discuss this important issue.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.