NASHVILLE -- The U.S. House today approved a major water infrastructure bill that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., say could speed replacement of the long-stalled Chickamauga Dam lock project in Chattanooga.
House members voted 412-4 for the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.
Fleischmann said a floor speech that the Chickamauga Lock replacement project on the Tennessee River has basically been "mothballed" due to the Inland Waterway Trust Fund in which a one massive dam project on the Ohio River has sucked up most funding.
"In my beloved city, my home city of Chattanooga, there sits a lock that has been mothballed because this system has been broken," Fleischmann said in a floor speech. "Finally, this great House has solved this problem."
The congressman then called it a "a huge step in the right direction ... to make sure that we ultimately fund all the locks in this system."
The House's action came on a House and Senate conference committee report on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which authorizes water projects.
Alexander said the existing lock is currently projected for completion by 2026 but the agreement could move that up to 2020.
"This act is good news, finally putting Chickamauga Lock fourth in the line of essential American waterways to be rebuilt, and authorizing new funding to do it," Alexander said in a news release.
But Alexander warned "the work will not be done fast enough to keep jobs flowing into East Tennessee" until Congress deals with funding and "accepts the offer of barge owners to pay more to accelerate the work."
Barger owners' offer "is in everyone's interest, including recreational boaters who would not have to pay more but would see their waiting time to go through the lock reduced," Alexander said.
Failure of the existing, decades-old lock is "a real possibility if the delay in funding takes too long" and "would threaten jobs in Chattanooga and throughout Tennessee, including at the Oak Ridge Naltional Laboratory, nuclear weapons facilities, nuclear power plants and manufacturing facilities," Alexander added.