Members of the Allegheny River Development Corporation (ARDC) are attending Day Two today of a three-day event in Pittsburgh.
The conference known as the Ohio River Basin Inspection Tour has brought together over 200 participants to discuss current and future uses of all three rivers.
ARDC President Linda Hemmes said last night that the conference includes visits to various locks along the river and meetings and tours with commercial operators that are interested in using the river as a mode of transportation for goods and services.
“We want to be part of the big picture that looks for growth and development in an environmentally friendly and sound way to take advantage of this resource that is so precious to us, and to grow it forward into the future,” she said. “This gives us the opportunity to meet those folks, to get them to know who we are, what we have done, and our view for the future of the rivers in this region.”
For Hemmes, the conference is opening her eyes to the way Armstrong County can once more use the Allegheny River for commercial use, not just recreational boating.
“I think the big thing for us is that I get a better view of what is going on the commercial side of business and what the potentials are for development. Part of ARDC’s goal is to see the revitalization of the river, not just for recreational use, but also for commercial use. I think it is extremely important to Armstrong County that we re-grow the river on a commercial basis. It is an economic necessity for our county moving forward.”
The conference has confirmed to Hemmes the potential growth that exists for use of the Allegheny River commercially. While in Pittsburgh, she is actively marketing Armstrong County among the participants.
“It gives us the opportunity to work with the Southwest Regional Planning Commission which is something we don’t normally do. We are able to talk with people from Consol, American Transportation, We are going to visit the Shell Cracker plant today to talk with folks at Shell. We are going to visit with Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. A lot of it is interacting – meeting and greeting and getting to know some of the other players on the river and having them know us.”
Hemmes said the conference is establishing a dialogue between the recreational boaters and the commercial/industrial river users.
“Back when ARDC decided we were going to seek to pay the Army Corps to open the locks and dams on the upper Allegheny, the ‘commercials’ weren’t very happy about it. They saw it as a clear and immediate threat, thinking they would be sucked into having to pay as well. Now three years later, they are a lot more comfortable, very supportive of us, and very welcoming of having recreational users at this conference, which is a huge landmark.”
ARDC was the first in the nation to pay the Army Corps to keep the locks open. Through vigorous fundraising activities, the non-profit organization raises over a quarter of a million dollars each year.
Hemmes said she is promoting Armstrong County at every bend of the river.
“It’s not just barge and tug transportation companies that we are talking to. We are talking to river users about what Armstrong County has to offer. This river complete bisects our county. It gives us miles and miles of opportunity that we cannot afford to waste and let go by the wayside.”
ARDC wasn’t a lifelong dream for Hemmes, but it has become a driving force for this stage of her life.
“I’m so in love with our river, which is always the thing the spurs me on. But having met some of the fantastic people that I have met through the Army Corps of Engineers, and then to network beyond to Mary Ann Bucci of Port of Pittsburgh Commission and her folks, they have all stood solidly ARDC and everything that we have done. Had we not had that kind of support and direction from these people who are as anxious as we are to put these rivers back to the way they were when they were busy and thriving and there wasn’t a day when we didn’t have some kind of activity on our river. This is something we need to strive for because that is the heart and soul of Armstrong County.”
The conference will conclude tomorrow.