Chattanooga Times Free Press: Senate spending bill boosts Chickamauga Lock spending to $78 million

Posted on July 21, 2017

A Senate appropriations panel today approved a spending plan that would reverse budget cuts proposed by President Trump and provide one of the the biggest annual funding levels yet for work on the new Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga.

The spending plan also would ensure continued design and preparation work on the Uranium Processing Facility in Oak Ridge, one of the biggest construction projects in Tennessee history, but move to kill the MOX fuel fabrication facility in South Carolina.

The Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee today approved appropriation measures that pump record levels of funding to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Office of Science and and ARPA-E, which supports high-impact energy technologies.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the subcommittee, said the spending bill was drafted "in a bipartisan way" and "I look forward to the bill being considered by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday."

"We continue to work together to keep big projects like the Uranium Processing Facility on time and on budget, and make sure that we are effectively using limited taxpayer dollars," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in a statement today. "We also continue to be very concerned about the cost of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, and we agree with the recommendation in the budget request to terminate the program. We are working to find a path forward to move plutonium out of South Carolina sooner and at a lower cost to taxpayers.

The bill also restores $1 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that was cut from President Trump's budget, bringing the Corps' budget up to $6.2 billion – a record funding level.

The bill makes full use of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund revenues for water infrastructure projects, including up to $78 million to continue construction of Chickamauga Lock in Chattanooga. In the current fiscal year, the Corps has allocated $19.3 million of its $6.038 billion budget for work on the replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam.

The existing, smaller lock suffers from "concrete growth" and may have to be permanently closed in the future years.

The Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge is funded at $663 million, which "will continue to keep this project on time and on budget, with a completion year of 2025 at a cost no greater than $6.5 billion," Alexander said.

The U.S Department of Energy's Office of Science, which supports basic science and energy research in Oak Ridge and other federal labs, is funded at $5.55 billion, also a record funding level in a regular appropriations bill.

The bill also continues to fund regional commissions, which the administration proposed to eliminate, including $142 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission which the Trump administration had proposed abolishing.

The bill also includes $92 million for advanced nuclear reactors, which is $28 million more than the president's budget request.

And the measure provides $40 million for research and development to support existing nuclear reactors and $24 million for the Center for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The House Appropriations Committee last week approved a $37.6 billion annual spending bill for the Department of Energy and water infrastructure programs that also was above what the Trump administration had proposed by $3.2 billion. 

The House has yet to vote on the measure, however.

But the bill is $3.2 billion above the drastic cuts that President Trump had sought as part of his effort to shift $54 billion from nondefense programs to defense ones.