Senate panel OKs $29 million to restart Chickamauga lock project

Senate panel OKs $29 million to restart Chickamauga lock project

May 20th, 2015 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Work on the Chickamauga lock is stagnant in this February 2014 view below the Chickamauga Dam.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Construction on a new Chickamauga lock should be revived this fall and startup work for the biggest construction project ever in Tennessee will continue next year under a spending bill endorsed Tuesday by a key Senate subcommittee.

A Senate panel drafting next year's budget for energy and water development projects unanimously endorsed a plan that provides $29 million to restart the stalled Chickamauga lock in Chattanooga and allocates $430 million for the new Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Energy and Water Development subcommittee, said funding is being increased for the U.S. Army orps of Engineers to finish more of the lock and dam projects it began but ran out of money to finish.

"One of the most important steps in this package is to provide good funding for our ports, locks and dams," Alexander said. "The good news for Tennessee is that $29 million will be available in October to restart work on the Chickamauga lock."

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. speaks to supporters in this Nov. 4, 2014, photo.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. speaks to supporters in...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Corps has spent more than $180 million on the Chickamauga lock over the past decade to design and start work on a lock to replace the existing 65-year-old chamber. But funding for the new lock ran out three years ago when most of the money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund was absorbed by the $3 billion repair and construction of the Olmsted Lock and Dam on the Ohio River, which has a higher priority for completion than does the lock in Chattanooga.

The Corps estimates it will cost another $680 million and take about four to five years of construction to finish building the bigger lock at the Chickamauga Dam.

To revive stalled waterway projects and replenish the waterways trust fund, Congress approved a 9 cents-per-gallon fuel tax increase last year on barge operators and is moving to appropriate more money for the Corps' civil works projects this year. Inland waterway projects are funded equally between taxes on barge operators and federal tax payments collected from all taxpayers.

The Senate spending measure must still be approved by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday and ultimately by the full Senate, and then reconciled with the House budget plan. But Alexander said the U.S. House already passed a similar measure and the projects should be funded through the congressional conference report.

Elsewhere in Tennessee, Alexander said major Department of Energy work in Oak Ridge should be boosted in the fiscal 2016 budget plan working through the U.S. Senate.

The Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex is funded at $430 million, which Alexander said "will continue to keep this project on time and on budget." The new processing facility would upgrade the aging World War II-era facilities at Y-12 used for weapons production.

The U.S Department of Energy's Office of Science, which supports basic energy research and provides much of the support for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is funded at $5.144 billion ion the Senate bill, the highest level of funding it has ever received in the bill.

Advanced computing, which supports the new Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is funded at $620.9 million to keep the world's fastest, next-generation supercomputer in Oak Ridge, Alexander said..

Another $62.5 million is provided to continue to move forward with the development of Small Modular Reactors, which TVA is studying to possibly build in Oak Ridge.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.


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