Chickamauga lock replacement not mentioned by president

Chickamauga lock replacement not mentioned by president

July 31st, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Local Regional News

Work on the Chickamauga Lock is stagnant in this February 27 view below the Chickamauga Dam.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

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Politicians love to talk, but there's sometimes more meaning in what they don't say than in what they do.

President Barack Obama's speech on new jobs and infrastructure contained one key omission that East Tennesseans immediately noticed: any mention of the Chickamauga lock.

As part of the president's "fix-it-first" plan, Obama named the port in Jacksonville, Fla., and the U.S. 27 road widening project in Chattanooga as two "vital projects our businesses need." He praised repair work on the St. Louis Arch as one among a list of "projects vital to our national pride," and called out the nation's air traffic control system as in need of repair as well.

But the 73-year-old Chickamauga lock, which has seen its funding slashed in the last two back-to-back federal budgets, was not among the bullet points in the president's speech on Tuesday.

Congressman Chuck Fleischmann said that put the president's rhetoric at odds with his actions.

"While he spoke today about the need for infrastructure funding, he has continued to be the major impediment to the Chickamauga lock," Fleischmann said. "This is a perfect example of where our infrastructure dollars should be spent. The need is there, the jobs are shovel ready, yet it continues to be ignored by this administration."

Funding ran out several years ago for much-needed repairs to the lock.

"It's quite dissappointing, but it's not surprising," said Debra Colbert, senior vice president for the Waterways Council. "The president has talked about wanting to double exports, he's talked about the importance of infrastructure in economic development, and he's talked about job creation, yet he fails to include our inland waterways infrastructure in his high-profile discussions."

A string of 15 barges can carry the same amount of goods as 216 rail cars or 1,050 trucks, Colbert said, taking pressure off the country's hard-pressed roads and bridges. But if the lock is not repaired, the reverse would also be true.

"Sadly, it's just out of sight, out of mind," Colbert said.

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315.