Alexander Statement on Closure of Chickamauga Lock

Posted on October 28, 2014

JACKSON, Tenn., Oct. 28, 2014 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today released the following statement on the closure of Chickamauga Lock for the next three weeks in order to repair a lock gate in which a crack was discovered:

“This underscores the urgent need to rebuild Chickamauga Lock. The most important step Congress can take is to allow barge owners to pay more to go through the lock, as they have offered to do, which would mean reconstruction could begin as early as fall of 2015. It’s hard for me to understand any reason not to do this when recreational boaters would not pay a higher fee and all boats would get through the lock more rapidly.” 

In May of this year, Alexander announced that Congress had approved final passage of legislation to authorize more funding for the nation’s inland waterways, and could lead to replacement of Chickamauga Lock by as much as six years earlier than the previously projected completion of 2026. The president signed the legislation into law.

“Congress has done the right thing by finally agreeing to put Chickamauga Lock fourth in the line of essential American waterways to be rebuilt, and authorizing new funding to do it,” Alexander said. “But the work will not be done fast enough to keep jobs flowing into East Tennessee until Congress accepts the offer of barge owners to pay more to accelerate the work. Their offer is in everyone’s interest, including recreational boaters who would not have to pay more but would see their waiting time to go through the lock reduced. Failure of the existing lock – a real possibility if the delay in funding takes too long – would threaten jobs in Chattanooga and throughout East Tennessee, including at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, nuclear weapons facilities, nuclear power plants and manufacturing facilities. If the Lock is closed it will put at least 150,000 trucks back on I-75, and if the new expanded Lock is built it will take 100,000 trucks off I-75, according to the Tennessee River Valley Association.”

Both the House and Senate previously passed their own versions of the Water Resources Development Act, and the legislation passed in May was the result of conference negotiations between the two chambers. The law prioritizes funding for Chickamauga Lock in two ways:

  • First, it decreases the amount of money the Inland Waterways Trust Fund pays each year to construct Olmsted Lock, an Ohio River project that Alexander said has “soaked up almost all of the available money for lock replacement anywhere in the country.” Olmsted Lock would go from receiving half of its funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to receiving 15 percent of its funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. This change makes more money available to fund inland navigation projects like Chickamauga Lock. 
  • Second, it restates the capital development plan that prioritizes construction projects, ensuring that Chickamauga Lock will be No. 4 on the priority list as funding becomes available for projects.

These two provisions mean work on Chickamauga Lock could begin sooner than otherwise possible, leading to an earlier completion by as much as six years. Based on the current backlog, Chickamauga Lock is not scheduled for completion until 2026. Currently, Chickamauga Lock is composed of aging and severely deteriorating concrete. 

Infrastructure projects like rebuilding Chickamauga Lock are funded by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which draws on fees that commercial users report and pay themselves. In addition to the two provisions contained in the Water Resources Development Act, Alexander said the $600 million project to replace the lock over five years would still require a fee increase that commercial users already support.

Alexander previously called for all three changes – the removal of Olmsted Lock from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, the restatement of the capital plan, and the user-supported fee increase – as part of the American Waterworks Act. He announced May 1 that portions of that legislation would advance as part of the Water Resources Development Act.  

 

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