published Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Sen. Lamar Alexander proposes new idea for funding Chickamauga Lock

by Chris Carroll

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., this morning said he’s planning new legislation that could clear up new funding for construction at Chickamauga Lock.

Adjacent to the existing 72-year-old lock, construction at the new lock has stalled because of a lack of funding. Only 27 percent of the new lock is completed, said Lt. Col. James DeLapp, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville.

Currently, locks like the new and bigger one being built at the Chickamauga Dam are equally funded by federal appropriations and taxes paid by barge operators into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. About 90 percent of trust fund revenues are prioritized for the Olmstead Lock on the Ohio River, leaving little scant resources for other projects, including the new Chickamauga Lock.

Alexander at a press briefing today said the American Waterworks Act would “do two things” to steer money toward the Tennessee Valley.

First, it would require the Olmsted Lock to be funded by a completely separate appropriation, freeing up funds and bumping up the Chickamauga Lock on the federal priority list. It is currently the fourth-ranking project, Alexander sad.

Secondly, Alexander said, his bill would increase user fees on barge operators. The senator said that step would nearly double the amount of money in the trust fund.

Barge operators have expressed a willingness to pay more in user fees. Alexander said the new revenue would provide enough money to fund several stalled projects, including the Chickamauga Lock.

Some conservative legislators, including U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, have resisted increasing user fees for barge operators, saying it’s a spending problem, “not a revenue problem.”

For more, see tomorrow’s Times Free Press.

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