U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., wants to cut federal spending, but he insists the government has a national security interest in resuming funding of the stalled Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga.
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spends more than $3 million a year to shore up the crumbling lock built at the dam in the early 1940s, there is no money in either the current budget or the White House budget for next year to finish building a new lock.
Because of delays in funding and additional costs for some of the retaining wall construction, the initial $268 million estimate for building the new lock a decade ago has grown to an estimated $634 million.
In Chattanooga on Wednesday, Fleisch-mann pledged that he will work to change the federal funding formula to provide the money needed to finish a new and bigger lock at the Chickamauga Dam.
"This lock is critical to our national security and to the great commerce we have moving up and down the (Tennessee) river," Fleischmann said after touring the lock. "I'm committed to funding the lock."
Since work began on the new lock nearly a decade ago, nearly $200 million has been spent to reroute roads, design and engineer the new lock and build a retaining wall and a coffer dam, a dry area in which the new lock will be erected.
BY THE NUMBERS
* $29 million -- Amount spent since 1999 on redressing concrete problems with the existing Chickamauga Lock, including $3.5 million this year
* $634 million -- New estimate for total cost of new and larger lock
* $268 million -- Original 2001 cost estimate
* 5 -- Number of years needed to finish work on the new lock
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
But since 2009, the main funding source for the Chickamauga Lock has run dry. The Inland Waterways Trust Fund, equally funded by barge fuel taxes and Army Corps of Engineers appropriations, has been drained by declining tax revenues and rising costs for completing the Olmsted Dam and Lock on the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said last week that the White House rejected a barge industry proposal for a fuel tax increase combined with more federal funds for the Olmsted Dam. But she pledged to work with Congress "to find a way to recapitalize not only our Inland Waterways Trust Fund but also our aging infrastructure as a whole."
Most of the Chickamauga Lock funding over the past two years came from the federal stimulus package, which Fleischmann opposed. But the freshman congressman praised "the outstanding work" completed so far at the lock and said the project has been handled better than some by the corps.
Wayne Huddleston, project manager for the Chickamauga Lock, estimates the new lock can be completed in five years from the time work resumes.
In the meantime, the corps is spending $3.6 million this year and the White House has proposed spending an additional $3.09 million next year to shore up the older, crumbling lock.
"Although we are doing all we can to maintain this lock, we run the risk of some failure that could close the lock down that could cut off river access to Oak Ridge, TVA's nuclear plants and other industry upstream of Chattanooga," Huddleston said.