Alexander pushes new funding plan to revive work on Chickamauga lock

Alexander pushes new funding plan to revive work on Chickamauga lock

April 27th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

The towboat Bearcat pushes barges toward the lock at the Chickamauga Dam.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Sen. Lamar Alexander

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Work on the stalled replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga could be revived next year if Congress adopts a Senate plan to change the way the Army Corps of Engineers funds its inland waterway projects.

But without earmarks to designate funding and without the change in a House-passed budget plan, it still will require congressional conferees and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to agree to reactivate the stalled lock project.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Thursday an alternative method of funding a major corps project on the Ohio River could free up money to revive work on a new and bigger Chickamauga lock. Under the new funding formula included in the energy and water funding bill for fiscal 2013, Alexander said the federal government would assume a bigger share of the ongoing work on the Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River.

That project is absorbing virtually all of the money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, leaving projects like the lock replacements at the Chickamauga and Kentucky locks without any money to proceed.

"This bill will free up an additional $72 million for the construction and maintenance of our nation's locks and dams, many of which have been long waiting for funding, particularly Chickamauga lock," Alexander said in a statement. "It was unacceptable to me that Chickamauga lock could close because of the failure of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, and this is a good first step to better managing the fund."

The Chickamauga lock, built in 1940, is suffering from problems of "concrete growth" caused by a chemical reaction between the river water and the rock aggregate.

During a Senate hearing last month, the head of the corps civil works projects, Jo-Ellen Darcy, said there was not enough money from barge fuel taxes to match the federal funding needed for all of the lock projects under way across the country. As a result, work on new locks at the Chickamauga and Kentucky dams on the Tennessee River is stalled even though they are less than half finished.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a funding plan this week to change Olmsted's cost share to 25 percent from the trust fund and 75 percent from the Treasury. That would free up $36 million in trust fund revenues, which could be matched with money from the Treasury to provide an additional $72 million for projects in fiscal year 2013.

The U.S. House did not include such a change in its budget for the corps, so the change would have to be sustained in a conference committee to become law.

"We're really getting up against a wall now at the Chickamauga Lock and we need to do something to make sure that we can preserve the old lock while we continue to build a replacement lock," said Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, a coalition of river users based in Decatur, Ala.

If the Chickamauga Lock were to shut down, it would block off 318 miles of navigable rivers upstream of Chattanooga.