CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (March 23, 2012) – An unfunded and stalled project to replace the crumbling Chickamauga Lock received noteworthy Congressional attention today and it included an expressed interest in opening up a funding flow.
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, representative of the 3rd District of Tennessee, and Congressman Bill Shuster, representative of the 9th District of Pennsylvania, toured the site, met with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District officials, and addressed the media about the importance of maintaining the lock and completing the Chickamauga Lock Addition Project.
Fleischmann and Shuster both serve in the House Infrastructure Committee and Shuster is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. With a railroad, highway, and Tennessee River all in the vicinity of Chickamauga Lock, Shuster called the location a “transportation heaven” for him and an “important crossroads in America.”
“We’ve got to make sure that funding continues to flow here to make sure we can keep the maintenance and keep it open,” Shuster told the media. “It’s a very important waterway. It’s important for jobs, commerce and the economy. This is an important lock. It’s an important river. There is tremendous commerce, and this lock is crumbling.”
Shuster said he supports maintaining the current lock and funding the completion of the new lock. He said that Fleischmann is working hard on behalf of his constituents to fund the project, with possible monies coming from a future Water Resources Development Act bill.
The media asked Shuster if the Inland Waterway Trust Fund needed to be replenished to complete the project. The Congressman responded that he did not favor increasing taxation, but feels the fund does need to be reformed so money flows out evenly.
“Right now, it’s all going down to the Ohio River in Kentucky. The appropriators did that. We the authorizers… we need to reform that so you can’t put all the money into one lock system. Again, this is important to keep open, so reform is important,” Shuster said.
Fleischmann also told the media that he is concerned that in fiscal year 2013 Chickamauga Lock is unfunded for both advanced aggressive maintenance and for the completion of the new lock.
“That’s unacceptable,” Fleischmann said. “The real problem is reforming the trust fund. Olmstead is getting all of the funds. So, if more dollars came into the trust fund, if it’s not fixed, these funds are still going to all go to Olmstead. And there are other locks. Chickamauga is just one of several locks that are getting starved out.”
During the Congressional visit, Lt. Col. James A. DeLapp, Nashville District commander, led a tour of the existing lock and the partially completed new lock where a coffer dam was recently completed but refilled as the project stalled.
DeLapp and a team of construction, maintenance, and navigation experts briefed the Congressmen about the status of the new lock and about operations and maintenance of the existing lock, which is a Corps responsibility through a long-time agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The Congressional visit is good because it provides the Corps with an opportunity to inform these representatives about the status of the project that helps them with making important funding decisions, and with media interest it also keeps the public educated about Chickamauga Lock, DeLapp said.
TVA completed construction of Chickamauga Lock and Dam in 1940. A single chamber measuring 60-by-360 feet, the lock has since experienced structural problems resulting from alkali aggregate reaction between the alkali in the cement and the rock aggregate, which results in a physical expansion of concrete structures. Even with costly advanced maintenance procedures, the concrete expansion threatens the structural integrity of the lock and limits its life span.
With significant annual maintenance, Chickamauga Lock has frequent and lengthy lock outages as a result of downtime for repairs. Up to now, Corps maintenance crews have kept the lock open as the concrete continues to expand and hinder operations. But the Nashville District may eventually reduce the lock’s availability to users or even close it permanently as the lock continues to deteriorate.
The current lock chamber is also incompatible with today’s towing equipment resulting in much longer than normal tow processing times. When the new 110-by-600-foot lock is funded and completed, it is expected to speed up the process of locking through, and would process up to nine jumbo barges in one lockage.
Ben Burnham, Nashville District East Tennessee Area maintenance engineer, said building the new Chickamauga Lock is important because it is larger and can accommodate more commercial and recreational traffic that navigates through up and down the river at this location.
“Right now we can only lock through one barge per lockage,” Burnham said. “So say you have a 12-barge tow… it will take 10 to 12 hours. So if we had a 110-by-600 lock… you could bring them all in at one time and in one hour, up river they go.”
Burnham said completing the new lock is supported by industry and other interests up stream. For example, Chickamauga Lock also provides navigation to U.S. Department of Energy facilities on the Clinch River in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Commodities traversing the lock have origins or destinations in 17 states in the south, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic regions, traveling an average of 1,400 miles.
If the lock is forced to close due to a lack of federal funding the direct impact would be closure of 318 miles of river and associated movement of an estimated 1.1 million tons of traffic a year above Chattanooga.