After meeting with local officials Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann faces three main goals: Find a key for Chickamauga's $693 million lock, keep grant money flowing toward Hamilton County and protect local governments from costly federal regulations.
Fleischmann, R-Tenn., met with elected officials from the county and its 10 municipalities Tuesday at the EPB building in downtown Chattanooga for a roundtable discussion about what locals need from the congressman's office. Fleischmann plans to have similar meetings this week throughout the Third Congressional District.
High on Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger's federal wish list is finishing the stalled Chickamauga lock project, which ground to a halt after the last of hte money appropriated was drained.
Fleischmann said Tuesday that for the lock project to reboot, the project's funding mechanism, the Inland Waterway Trust Fund, needs an overhaul.
Instead of shunting all of money in the fund toward the Olmstead lock on the Ohio River, funds should be dispersed in a more equitable way, he said.
If the old lock, which is nearing the end of its usefulness, fails, Hamilton County and all industries on the Tennessee River would suffer, he said.
"The failure would not necessarily pose any kind of danger, but it would be an economic disaster," Fleischmann said.
After the roundtable, Coppinger was pleased to hear the lock is still in the Ooltewah Republican's mind.
"I was glad to hear that he is working -- trying to find funding for the Chickamauga lock," Coppinger said.
About $180 million has been spent on the project to date. But the lock requires at least another $510 million -- and six years of construction -- to be completed.
Coppinger also asked Fleischmann to continue to oppose what he called unfunded mandates from the federal government, such as the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare.
"I was pleased to hear the commitments he made to us as far as fighting these unfunded mandates [in Washington]. Those usually come down to local governments to pay for," Coppinger said.
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond petitioned Fleischmann for his thoughts and support in dealing with the emerging gang and drug problems in Hamilton County's schools.
"I still feel like we miss the boat on when to intercede to divert these children from the gang culture and the drug culture," Hammond said.
Fleischmann pledged to continue to support public safety grants to help local governments protect residents.
But Soddy-Daisy Vice-Mayor Janice Cagle said public safety grants don't solve all the problems in a modern small municipality.
She voiced concerns to the congressman about an overall decline in federal municipal and community grants.
"Small cities have gotten to where we almost have to depend on state and federal money," Cagle said.
Fleischmann urged all at the table to aggressively seek what grants were available.
Only one elected official from each body attended the meeting, which skirted the state's open meetings law and allowed the majority of the discussion to be closed to the media.