Lawmakers step in to keep Allegheny River locks open next summer in Armstrong County
A state lawmaker from Armstrong County said Tuesday that $160,000 in grant money has been secured to help a Kittanning nonprofit pay to keep locks open next year in the county’s portion of the Allegheny River.
The announcement from state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, came a day after the Allegheny River Development Corp. said it had no money set aside for next year’s boating season. The group said it paid an Upper St. Clair lobbyist an undisclosed amount of money over the past year and a half to find grants to pay to keep the four locks open, but the grants never materialized.
The state Attorney General’s Office said the lobbyist, Joseph Kuklis, 48, was paid by other groups to lobby for government grants that never materialized. Prosecutors accused Kuklis, who operates the consulting firm Wellington Strategies based in Station Square, of forging documents that made it appear his clients received grants when no such grants were approved.
No charges have been filed against Kuklis in connection with the ARDC, but the group said it turned over information about its dealings with Kuklis to the Attorney General’s Office.
Kuklis did not return a message for comment.
Pyle said he was disappointed when he heard about the Kuklis allegations and ARDC potentially being without any funding for next year.
“That river means a lot for an area with limited recreational opportunities,” Pyle said.
“Every summer those locks are open, the county makes out,” Pyle added, noting recreational boating tourists bring in about $400,000 each summer through their visits to restaurants, shops and other activities.
Pyle said state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, did the heavy lifting to secure funding, and he believes former Sen. Don White — who retired earlier this year and was replaced by Pittman — put the grant application in motion before the Kuklis allegations surfaced.
The grant is from the state Community Revitalization Assistance Program, which will require some type of match, according to Pyle.
Pittman said access to the Allegheny River is important to the entire region for commercial and recreational use.
“I have made securing funds for their continued operation a priority,” he said.
The ARDC was pleased to hear about the funding.
“It’s great news and I look forward to learning the details,” said Brian Szep, acting president of ARDC.
The nonprofit pays to open four locks during summer weekends and holidays since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shuttered them for lack of commercial traffic. The four locks are in South Buffalo (Clinton lock, No. 6), West Kittanning (No. 7), Boggs (Mosgrove lock, No. 8) and Madison Township (Rimer lock, No. 9).
ARDC will meet Tuesday night to decide what days the locks will open given their limited budget until the end of this year’s boating season.
In the long run, Pyle and Pittman doesn’t want to see ARDC relying on state grants. “It shouldn’t be five guys from a nonprofit each year trying to raise $160,000.”
Pyle would like the county to use some of its Marcellus Legacy funds to pay for the locks. More entities should be involved with ARDC including the county commissioners, county tourism and the state Fish and Boat Commission.
“You need a group of people pulling the rope in the same direction,” Pyle said.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .