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Obama's budget protects funding for Parks cleanup, river locks

Mary Ann Thomas
| Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

President Obama's fiscal year 2013 budget stays the course for paying for the cleanup of the nuclear waste dump in Parks Township and maintenance for the eight locks and dams on the Allegheny River.

The president's new budget includes $133 million in new federal funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District's civil works program. The president's budget serves as a road map for federal spending. In reality, Congress draws up and passes the federal budget.

The fiscal year 2013 budget includes $14.4 million for the continued cleanup of radioactive and toxic chemical waste from the former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) nuclear fuel plant in Apollo and plutonium processing facility in Parks.

For the estimated eight- to 10-year, $170 million project, the Corps dug up and removed the first radiologically contaminated waste from the site last summer.

However, the Corps announced in mid-October that it had shut down operations to investigate the alleged mishandling of nuclear waste by a contractor at the dump site, which already was set to close for the winter.

The Army Corps of Engineers' operation and maintenance of the Allegheny's navigation system is set at $4.3 million for the fiscal year 2013 budget, compared to $4 million in the current federal fiscal year.

"Operation of locks and dams will be the same as in the current budget," said Jeanine Hoey, deputy district engineer for the Army Corps in Pittsburgh.

It was last year's budget that slashed funding for the Allegheny locks and dams by 50 percent. That forced the closure of recreational boat traffic beginning last October through locks No. 8 in Templeton and No 9 in Rimer, with reduced hours of operation at locks downstream from there.

The Allegheny River navigation system will continue to operate without a maintenance budget.

"The Corps will do what it can with the funding we got on the Allegheny River," Hoey said.

If the locks malfunction, the Corps would have to address repairs on a case-by-case basis, she said.

"It's not a definite 'no,'" said Hoey. "We'd have to find money to fix it."

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