by Jonathan Weaver and David Croyle
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are refuting reports of possible demolition of Allegheny River locks and dams.
Tuesday afternoon, Outreach Coordinator Ryan Fisher put an end to the rumors about the federal agency removing the locks that affect Allegheny and Armstrong County boaters or conducting a feasibility study.
“The initial purpose of the study was to look and see if there was to be a transfer of partners. So, (officials from) our headquarters in (Washington,) D.C. said ‘Pittsburgh district, go out and talk to the state, hydropower interests or people who might be interested in owning these facilities, operating and maintaining them,’” Fisher said. “(And) we’ve done that – we talked to hydropower folks, state (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources), (Department of Environmental Protection) and other interests and nobody wants them.
(A decision on removing the locks and dams) will not be made during this study.”
Fisher recalled how the federal budget has impacted local and regional locks during the past five years, and validated an internal review without recommendation.
“We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to invest in these (locks) going forward and try to determine what the future of the locks and dams is going to look like. We’re not going to come out of this with a path forward, but we do want to know for our internal purposes what the investment needs to look like to keep these things operating and maintained for the future.”
Fisher conducted the meeting with about a dozen local officials yesterday – both from the county and County Commissioners, economic development officials, Kittanning Borough Council members, business representatives, members of the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau Board, Representatives from US Senator Toomey’s office, US Congressman Mike Kelley’s office and State Senator Don White’s officrepresentatives from U.S Senator Pat Toomey’s, U.S Congressman Mike Kelly’s and State Senator Don White’s offices – and heard about the impacts the Allegheny River has on business and tourism
Asbury Graphite Mills – Kittanning Plant Manager John Silvis said the North Buffalo Township plant and its 62 employees rely heavily on the Allegheny River lock system and said the river needs to be cleaned even more to allow barges on-site.
“We bring in a lot of barge materials from all over the world – South Africa and now Japan – and have to barge that material all the way up. I can’t get up to Pittsburgh or Schenley terminals – I used to bring it right up to our site, but now I can’t do that,” Silvis said. “I have all these additional costs – trucking or storage fees – I have to incur just to get my raw materials in.”
The initial study of usage along the Allegheny River navigation system is costing the government over a half-million dollars. Corps officials know how many boats “lock-thru” the locks, but they do not know how many boaters use the Allegheny River inside specific pools. The local river locks will be in operation by ARDC starting Memorial Day weekend.