Summary of Meeting on Corps of Engineers Lock Policy
Alabama River Stakeholders and Mobile District
September 19, 2012
Prepared by Jerry Sailors, Director, Cooa-Alabama Improvement Association
Officials from the Mobile District of the US Army Corps of Engineers met with 55 stakeholders Wednesday evening, September 19, in Monroeville to discuss the Corps’ plans to implement changes in the level of service available at the three navigation locks on the Alabama River. Wynne Fuller, Chief of the Operations Division at Mobile District, said the new policy is being applied nationwide and results from a review of the nation’s inland marine transportation system to identify measures to help reduce the federal deficit.
The major concern of stakeholders centered around the proposal to not accommodate recreation vessels through the locks, definition of a “commercial” vessel, and the need for the Corps to recognize the economic impact of water-related recreation in the Black Belt, an area badly in need of every economic development tool available. One attendee described Wilcox County as “the 15th poorest county in the nation” and that it isn’t “fair to impact the economic development of the area.” Another said “The river is all we have.”
One person asked what savings there would be from closing the locks to recreation traffic. While not giving a specific savings figure, Wynne Fuller said any savings would come from restructuring lock personnel. (Learned later that any personnel reductions would most likely be through attrition.)
In response to a question about commercial appointments, Danny Hensley, Project Manager for the Alabama River Lakes, said there could possibly be a 72-hour notice for a commercial lockage.
Other specific comments and points of interest:
The Corps should be aware of the negative impact this policy might have on the Corps’ reputation within the community
Lack of maintenance (dredging) and low flows in drought have made the channel unreliable and is negatively impacting the area’s ability to attract industry
The Corps should consider that once the capability to operate these locks is lost, it will be very difficult and expensive to make them operational again.
The target number of lockages for “substantial, consistent” recreation traffic would be at least 500 annually. Lockages on the Alabama averaged 200-250 a year over the last three years
Annual budget for Alabama River lock operations is approximately $1.2 million with about half going toward Claiborne, currently a 24/7 operation
Mobile District is considering ways to accommodate vessels other than commercial with possibly 40 hours of operations weekly in some configuration
Mobile District is on a very short suspense to submit its proposed implementation plan, which will have to be approved by South Atlantic Division and Headquarters Corps of Engineers
Implementation of plan will be phased in as operations permit, beginning October 7
Claiborne will be operated on its current schedule of 24 hours a day until the spillway gates are configured for remote operations, probably a few weeks away (contract for work has been let)
The stakeholders offered several suggestions for ways to keep the locks operating, all of which the Mobile District will consider, but, in general, were appreciative of being able to express their views.