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Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Cranes stand above the cofferdam around the construction for the new Chickamauga Dam Lock.

Construction of a new Chickamauga Lock would proceed at full pace in the next year if Congress approves a bipartisan spending plan unveiled Tuesday for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Outgoing U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is pushing a measure to boost the overall budget for the Corps by $72 million above the current year and to change the funding formula to put a bigger federal funding contribution to work on the new lock at the Chickamauga Dam in Chattanooga during fiscal 2021.

The proposed spending measure, which Alexander introduced Tuesday along with the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Water Development Appropriation Subcommittee he chairs, would provide a record high $7.72 billion for the Army Corp of Engineers to maintain and rebuild the nation's waterways, including an expected $69 million for the new Chickamauga Lock in the current fiscal year.

A 110-by-600-foot lock is being erected beneath the Chickamauga Dam to replace the current, smaller lock to allow tow boats to more efficiently push more and bigger barges through the lock at one time. The existing lock at the Chickamauga Dam was built by Tennessee Valley Authority in 1940 and later taken over by the Corps after it developed problems with concrete growth and the lock walls began to crumble.

With adequate funding, the Corps has estimated the new lock could be completed by 2024. To expedite the work, Alexander is proposing a one-year change in the formula used to allocate funds for the lock from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund from an equal match between barge fees and federal tax dollars to a one-year provision to fund 85% of the work with federal funds.

"This is great news for East Tennessee since the new lock will help keep up to 150,000 trucks off I-75 and keep the cost of shipping goods low for manufacturers across the state," Alexander said in a statement Tuesday.

The measure was welcomed by the barge industry which uses the Chickamauga Lock and other inland waterways to haul millions of tons of raw materials and finished goods across the country.

"Once again, the leadership of Senator Alexander to help advance Chickamauga Lock not only benefits the economy and commerce in Tennessee but across the nation," said Tracy Zea, the president and CEO of the Waterways Council, Inc.

In the current fiscal year, the Corps allocated $101.7 million for the lock replacement project at the Chickamauga Dam, which is expected to ultimately cost nearly $800 million since the project began in 2007.

Work on the lock was suspended for three years due to a lack of funding, but the proposed new spending measure marks the seventh consecutive year of funding for the lock replacement project and could help lead to its completion in the next four years. President Trump had proposed no extra spending for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund in his fiscal 2021 budget unveiled in February.

In his proposed spending bill introduced Tuesday along with U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Alexander also is proposing to provide a record $7.03 billion budget for the Office of The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science, which supports basic science and energy research and is a major source of funding for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The Senate bill also prioritizes funding for supercomputing and advanced nuclear programs.

"I proposed a New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy last March — a five year project with Ten Grand Challenges that will use American research and technology to put our country and the world firmly on a path toward cleaner, cheaper energy," Alexander said in introducing the spending plan. "To provide the tools to create these breakthroughs, the federal government should double its funding for energy research and reinstate the United States as number one in the world in advanced computing."

The spending measure, which must still be approved by the Senate and reconciled with the House spending plans, includes $230 million for the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, an increase of $5 million above last year.

The uranium processing facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge is funded at $750 million under the measure. Alexander said that will keep the state's biggest construction project moving ahead toward completion in 2025 at a cost no greater than $6.5 billion.

Senate and House appropriators are trying to finalize a federal budget by Dec. 11 when the current continuing resolution for most federal spending runs out.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-57-6340.

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