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$150K in state cash aids goal of keeping Allegheny River locks open for leisure

| Saturday, April 16, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

The rough waters facing Allegheny River locks in Armstrong County might be getting a little smoother.

State Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, announced Friday he has secured $150,000 in new funding for operation of the locks at Clinton in South Buffalo, Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer.

The locks were closed to recreational traffic in 2012 after the federal government slashed the budget of the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks.

Last year, the Allegheny River Development Corp. and an organization in West Virginia became the first private ventures to fund recreational use of public locks in the country.

“We can show that from just one year of doing it, lockages are up and tourism in the county is up anywhere from 400,000 to 500,000 people,” Pyle said. “This isn't a giveaway. This is an investment.”

Pyle said the money technically can be applied for by any organization in the state, but he doesn't know of any other locks that aren't operational because of money concerns.

“We filled a pot they've got a real good shot at,” Pyle said.

According to Pyle, the lock funding is attached to the education bill that has enough legislative support to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Linda Hemmes, president of the Allegheny River Development Corp., said the news of the funding arrives as a pleasant surprise.

“This is really a grassroots effort, and we really need community support,” she said. “This is excellent.

“The money essentially goes straight through to the corps,” Hemmes said. “We don't take any money out of the funding — it pays for operations at those four locks.”

Hemmes said the ARDC's budget for 2016, which relies on grants and fundraising efforts, is about $200,000. That allows the locks to be open to boaters during the weekends from Memorial Day until October.

Hemmes said the locks will be open extra days during holiday weekends.

The ARDC will try to make the locks operational for events close to or on the river, Hemmes said.

“Anytime we can do that and help with events along the river, we're going to try and do it,” she said.

State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana County, said designating the state money acknowledges the importance of the river to the municipalities along it.

“The Allegheny River is one of the most significant assets in the district I represent,” he said in a statement. “Having such an asset remain unnavigable is tantamount to having a four-lane highway without exit ramps.”

Hemmes said she hopes folks take advantage of the open locks.

“We encourage everyone to use these locks,” she said. “If we have really strong numbers, it's conceivable the Corps will take them back over.”

R.A. Monti is a freelance reporter.

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