Army Corps Seeks Solution to Lock Closure

Proposal nixes access for recreational users

Morgantown Dominion Post
18 July 2012
By Erin Fitzwilliams

Folks who use the Monongahela River gathered to discuss a proposed service reduction of locks and dams on the upper Mon on Tuesday at WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

Officials from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which runs the system of locks on rivers in this region, were on hand to discuss and explain the possible Opekiska and Hildebrand recreational lockage reductions.

Lock access reduction on the upper Mon would involve eliminating weekend and holiday hours during summer. Both locks could only be accessed commercially. The Morgantown lock would be reduced from eight hours a day to eight hours on weekends and holidays only.

Col. William Graham, commander of the Pittsburgh District, said the federal government is cutting back funds that support dams and locks run by the USACE nationwide.

Maj. Christopher Scott, project manager with the USACE, said the reduction of service on the locks depends on the number of lockages each year, which is then broken up between commercial and recreational lockages. According to a presentation by the USACE, Opekiska and Hildebrand locks each had two commercial lockages in the 2011 fiscal year, and numbers for recreational include 312 for Opekiska and 169 for Hildebrand.

“The USACE is trying to prioritize which locks are the most beneficial,” he said.

Scott said funding of the program, along with limited commercial use, is the main cause of the possible restriction.

“We are willing to try anything — explore any idea — to keep these locks open,” he said.

Closing the Opekiska and Hildebrand locks would block the Hildebrand pool, which could alter fish passages and restrict recreational passage altogether, as there is no public access to that part of the Mon.

“No access is not acceptable,” said Barry Pallay, vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMBRA).

He said the association will ask the corps to report its yearly budgets and offer quarterly updates on the infrastructure of the locks, among many other concerns for the abandoning of the locks.

Jared Harmon, president of the West Virginia Bass Federation, thanked the corps for providing maintenance on the locks.

“With 350-400 members, we tend to see 20-30 boats at tournaments on the Mon River. If the locks are closed, it would be harder to get boats out there,” he said.
The proposed changes would likely take effect in October 2013.

COMMENTS ON the proposal can be sent to celrp-pa@usace. or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Upper Mon River Service Reduction, 1000 Liberty Ave., 22nd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.