Locks to open to boaters over 2 weekends

| Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Finally, there's some good news on the horizon for recreational boaters who have, since last year, been unable to pass through Locks 6 and 7 on the Allegheny River because of federal budget cuts.

For four days in August – beginning this weekend with the 42nd Fort Armstrong Folk Festival in Kittanning – Lock 6 in Clinton and Lock 7 in Kittanning will be open to recreational boaters from 12:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The following weekend, on Aug. 10 and 11, the locks will be open again for recreational boat lockages during the Armstrong County Chamber of Commerce Boater Poker Run.

The bad news is that those are the only four days this year that the locks will be open to recreational boaters.

And upriver, Lock 8 in Templeton and Lock 9 in Rimer will remain closed, sealing off boaters in their respective pools with no possibility of traveling downriver in the foreseeable future.

Yet Linda Hemmes, treasurer of the nonprofit Allegheny River Development Corp., remains hopeful that her group's ongoing fundraising efforts and discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, will result in a return to seasonal operating hours at all four locks in Armstrong County next year.

For now, area businesses are hoping the combination of events and open locks will help draw higher numbers of visitors to the area.

“It's going to be big,” said Jeff Larkin, owner of the Allegheny Mariner in Kittanning.

“A lot of people are coming from downriver this weekend,” he said.

That influx of boaters is important for business owners like Larkin who have experienced a significant drop in revenue since the Corps closed down regular access to recreational boaters along this stretch of the Allegheny.

“Sunday sales alone are down 30 percent,” said Larkin. “That affects how many people I can hire.”

Lauren Chorney, co-owner of Rosston Eddy Marina in Manor Township, said she hopes boaters come out to use the locks during the four open days.

“We have to show how important they (the locks) are,” she said, but added that periodic openings do little to sustain area businesses.

She said the marina has lost a lot of business with bigger boats leaving for less restricted channels.

One customer sold his cottage in Armstrong County, took his boat and left, she said.

That does not bode well for the area, said Chorney, since tourism is considered to be Armstrong County's top industry.

People need to write to their legislators, she said.

She said that close to $130,000 would be needed in order to operate four locks during a season.

“Our legislature should be embarrassed that they can't cough it up,” she said.

“We need permanent, regularly scheduled lockages. Boaters mean business for Armstrong County,” said Chorney. “Why doesn't my commerce count?”

Upriver in East Brady, Brian Reed, owner of the Allegheny Power Sports and fueling station, said he has lost thousands of dollars in revenue since Locks 8 and 9 were closed.

Reed's is the only boat fueling station along the river between pools 7 and 9.

“People used to come up from Pittsburgh,” he said. “Sometimes there'd be 10 or 15 big houseboats needing to fill up with gas (at $400 or $500 per vessel) on the river.”

He said the trickle-down effect from the lock closures has affected other businesses in town.

“It's hurting everybody. We lost our grocery store a few years ago,” he said.

Reed said he would never have bought his business five years ago had he known the locks would close just a few years later.

He believes the approximate $130,000 needed to help restore operational hours at all four locks is within reach for the county.

“There are so many boaters out there on the river, they're stepping over each other,” he said. “There's 300 boats in this little pool of water – it's a lot of money.”

John Smith, of Washington Township, lives along the Allegheny River near Lock and Dam 9. Smith said the hydroelectric plant at the dam generates electricity for export to New York.

He said he thinks New York recipients should pay fees to help fund the operations of locks and dams in Armstrong County.

Smith's daughter, Charlotte, said she was frustrated with the way that the lock and dam closures have limited boaters' social connections with one another all along that stretch of the Allegheny.

“The river community is a family,” she said. “But now we're like a divided family.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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