Although most of us tend to take our Tennessee River and our Chickamauga Dam for granted, we would surely be shocked by the economic adversity if the failing concrete in the current Chickamauga lock created a bottleneck in the important waterway.
Many millions of dollars and many thousands of jobs depend upon keeping navigation open through Chickamauga Dam for the 318 miles upstream and the hundreds of downstream waterway miles of the Tennessee River, the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico to the world.
Maintaining our nation's river ways is constitutionally a federal government responsibility. Fortunately, the need for a new Chickamauga lock has been recognized, and work has begun to provide a 110- by 600-foot lock at an estimated cost of more than $265 million.
But Chattanooga's Rep. Zach Wamp felt it necessary to warn on the floor of the United States House of Representatives this week that "a crisis for the biggest inland waterway" in the Eastern United States is at hand. That's because a congressional committee has voted only $1 million this year toward the new Chickamauga lock, which Rep. Wamp correctly says "is not sufficient to move the project forward."
If enough money is not provided, Rep. Wamp warned, "the current lock will close and, if it does, it will be the longest inland waterway system in the country to ever close."
Funding to provide the new lock must come from a 20 cents-per-gallon levy on diesel fuel for river barge traffic plus a matching amount from general taxes. But the effort by Rep. Wamp and Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., to get approval for a $16 million installment for the lock work was rejected by a 10-8 congressional committee vote this week. Only $1 million was approved.
It is imperative for Congress to assure provision of the new lock before the old lock fails. The cost in jobs and other adversity would be far greater than the cost of assuring the new Chickamauga lock is completed in time.