Group hopes to have locks open for recreational boaters in 2014
EAST FRANKLIN — Recreational boaters will have the opportunity during four days in August to pass through Allegheny River locks 6 at Clinton and 7 at Kittanning, which will be operated for several hours by the Army Corps of Engineers.
However, the Allegheny River Development Corp. (ARDC) is seeking ways to bring back seasonal operating hours at all four locks in Armstrong County.
It's unlikely it will be any time soon.
ARDC has its sights on next year and is working toward expanding operating hours from May until September of 2014.
Before that can happen the nonprofit will have to navigate through government channels.
ARDC officers and board of directors held a public meeting on Wednesday at the East Franklin fire hall to lay out the results of recent discussions with the Corps.
Earlier this year, after ARDC had discussed the possibility for a public/private partnership to keep the locks open, the Corps told the organization it would have to be insured for third-party loss for around $5 million.
Since then ARDC officers had been seeking maritime insurers but could find no agency willing to underwrite them.
“So it's off the table,” said Mark Devinney, ARDC president.
Now the group is taking a different tack and is looking into something called contributing funds.
That means the nonprofit would raise money for the Corps to operate the locks at an hourly rate of $60.94, not including maintenance costs.
According to Mike Ferris, ARDC vice president, it would take 470 man-hours per lock to operate from May to September, which works out to $28,000 to operate one lock during the recreational season.
“That's $115,000 to contribute to the Corps and we'd have all four locks open for the recreational season,” said Ferris.
“Considering the other way (of insuring ARDC for $5 million) this is very inexpensive.”
He noted that amount was an estimate and would provide funding for only one season.
Linda Hemmes, ARDC treasurer, said the contributing funds must go through a municipality before it passes to the Corps.
She said ARDC approached the Armstrong County Commissioners in April and asked if they would be the pass between the ARDC and the Corps.
“They are on board with the concept but still need to hammer out the details,” she said after the meeting.
Hemmes said giving money to the federal government for a project like this one will take time to move through the channels.
Approval must go through all the various levels of the Corps before going to the Secretary of the Army and then on to the Office of Management and Budget before filtering back down.
“It's not going to be a short trip,” said Hemmes. “But I'm hopeful it could be next year.”
Although the contributing fund has not been set up yet, a member of the public suggested ARDC begin taking pledges now so the funds would be available when needed.
According to Ferris, there are about 5,000 recreational boaters on the Allegheny River each season.
At present, ARDC has $15,093 of donated money in a fund, said Hemmes. Incoming funds so far have paid maritime attorney fees and have helped with mailing costs.
Devinney encouraged more individuals and businesses to show support for ARDC by signing up for membership and writing to U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and U.S. Sens.Pat Toomey and Bob Casey.
He thanked Kelly's Director of Outreach Samuel Breene for attending and for supporting ARDC.
“We haven't given up,” Devinney said before the meeting ended. “We still have our shoulder to the wheel.”
Locks 6 and 7 will be open Aug. 3 and 4 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Aug. 10 and 11 from 1:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
For more information visit www.AlleghenyRiverDevelopment.org.
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.