Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor speech: Replacing Chickamauga Lock

Posted on December 3, 2014

      The House of Representatives is expected to pass tonight legislation that should be very good news to Americans who care about their jobs and Americans who care about the condition of our inland waterway systems.   

      Inland waterway systems aren't on the front page of the U.S. newspapers until a lock closes or something happens and the cargo can't get down the river, and then it is big trouble. Which is the case in Tennessee with the Chickamauga Lock, an old lock that the Army Corps of Engineers says could close. It is in such bad shape, and if it were to close it would throw 150,000 heavy trucks on I?75 and disrupt the economy in all of eastern Tennessee.  That same picture applies in many other parts of our country to these important waterways:  The Mississippi, the Missouri, the Tennessee, and the Ohio ?? rivers that carry so much of the heavy cargo that provides income and jobs for so many American families. 

      Tonight the House of Representatives is expected to enact the third part of a three?part plan that was envisioned in the American Waterworks Act of 2012, which would provide a permanent, long?term solution to having the kind of inland waterway system that a great country such as the United States deserves.  I wish to speak for a moment about the effect that has not just on our country but on my home State of Tennessee.

      For our country, it would be hard to imagine how we could carry cars and coal and agricultural equipment from the great Midwest and the South to the rivers to be shipped overseas without the barges that carry that equipment, millions of tons of cargo every year, and it is usually cheaper and faster than many other forms of transportation.  That means more jobs and more money in the pockets of Americans who are able to work for industries that are competitive.

      The legislation the House is expected to pass will provide $260 million for inland waterway projects across the country over the next 10 years.  It is important to note that this fee is paid entirely by the owners of the big commercial barges that use the locks when they go down the rivers, and that none of it would be paid by the fishing boats and recreation boats which also use the locks.  In other words, the big commercial barges are going to pay more to get through the locks faster, to save money and to save time, and that is good for the fishermen as well, without any cost. This is the third step in the American Waterworks Act that was proposed in 2012. 

      This step would increase by 9 cents the way the fee is calculated that the big barge companies pay to go through the locks.  The barge companies have volunteered to do this.  They have been pleading with the U.S. Congress, saying, "Please raise the fee we pay to go through the locks so you can use the Corps of Engineers to replace the locks so we can go through faster and cheaper."  So the House is taking steps to do that tonight.  The fee will increase from 20 to 29 cents per gallon of fuel used and, as I said, $260 million of that over the next 10 years will go to help repair these locks. 

      The first two steps in the plan of the American Waterworks Act were enacted by law earlier this year as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act.  Step one was to take the Olmsted lock in Ohio and treat it separately, because it was soaking up all the money that might be available for all the other locks in the country.  Step two was to create a prioritization of the locks, so we didn't come here every year and say “my lock is more important than your lock.”  And, in fact, with that, the Chickamauga lock in Tennessee became No. 4.  And Step three is the user fee I talked about earlier. 

      What difference does this legislation mean for the State of Tennessee and the Chickamauga lock?  Well, for years the Chickamauga lock has been subject to year?by?year efforts by those of us in Congress to find a little money to repair it, to keep it from closing, all knowing full well that if we didn't replace it, it would one day soon close.  Those days are over.  This is a long?term solution that says, No. 1, the Olmsted lock which has been soaking up the money has been reduced, Chickamauga lock is a fourth priority in the government, and now we have money paid by the big barge owners that, when combined with the annual appropriations, should make it possible to begin to replace Chickamauga lock beginning in the year in 2016.  That would mean it would still take several years to replace the lock.  It would mean it would still cost about half a billion dollars.  But it would mean that instead of year?by?year appropriations and guessing games that the Army Corps of Engineers can have a long?term plan and begin to do the job, and those who are making plans to invest in our part of the region ?? not just in Chattanooga but in eastern Tennessee ?? can know if they do that, the lock would be there to help provide low?cost transportation for what they manufacture and what they grow. 

      I want to thank a variety of people who have taken great leadership in this.  The Senator from Pennsylvania, Senator Casey, and I have been the joint sponsors of this legislation in the Senate.  We are very hopeful that the House will do its work tonight and the Senate will do its work next week and that the bill will go to the president before the end of the year and this will be law by the end of the year.  So I thank him for his leadership.

      I also want to congratulate Congressman Fleischmann of Chattanooga who rounded up a group of Republican members to support this effort, and Congressman Duncan from Knoxville.  Speaker Boehner has been very helpful, and Congressman Camp has been very helpful. 

      In the Senate I would like to thank Senator Vitter, who is the ranking member of the Environment & Public Works Committee for his leadership on this effort, and I would like to thank Senator Reid, the majority leader, and Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, for their cooperation on this. 

      Nothing is ever done in the U.S. Congress until it is finally done.  So this is passing the House tonight and it is expected to pass the Senate next week, which is very good news for Americans who depend on the inland waterways for their jobs, and in Tennessee ?? instead of a year?by?year appropriation, it is an effort, it is the first chance we have had to have a long?term solution to the replacement over the next several years of Chickamauga Lock beginning as early as the year 2016. 


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