Public gives input on possible changes to Mon River services
July 18, 2012 ·
Budget constraints are forcing the US Army Corps of Engineers to make some tough decisions on whether to keep locks on the Monongahela River open for recreation and commercial access.
Local residents are frustrated and voiced concerns about possible cutbacks at a public meeting Tuesday night.
The Army Corps of Engineers discussed its service reduction proposals, which include possible closures of two locks at Hildebrand and Opekiska, which receive very little commercial traffic.
It’s also looking at making changes at the Morgantown Lock and Dam.
However, recreational users particularly bass fishermen, have tournaments in those areas.
Barry Pallay with the Upper Monongahela River Association says there has to be some compromise to keep the locks open.
"Instead of having Hildebrand and Opekiska permanently closed, maybe we can keep them open for let’s say 20 days during the summer session," he said.
"The Hildebrand Lock and Dam has no public access, and we will ask the corps to work with us on providing boat ramp access to Hildebrand if in fact access to the locks at Hildebrand are going to be either eliminated or severely restricted."
Speakers from the Corps of Engineers outlined their proposals, and took questions from a large audience expressing frustration.
Barry Pallay says he understands people are deeply concerned about the future of access to the Mon River.
"The river is a critical infrastructure," Pallay said.
Col. William Graham with the Corps of Engineers’ Pittsburgh District answered questions.
He says closing the locks would impact recreation users the most because the locks have seen little to no commercial navigation in the last few years.
"We need to operate them commensurate with the traffic on them. So that will probably entail putting the top two locks on caretaker status, which means we wouldn’t have an operator. We would close the gates and leave them shut," Graham said.
"Who that is going to impact is recreation users. This will impact them."
That could happen before next year. While the meeting is intended to discuss what is likely to happen, it doesn’t mean a final decision has been made yet.
Graham says he’s hopeful a new situation will present itself, maybe involving private industry or local government.
"What I would really like to do is see if there is some way, someone can come up with a good idea, as the federal government steps out, someone else can step in," Graham said.
"Would the state want to step in, would some private organization, would the city of Morgantown want to step in? I will try anything."
Graham estimates it will save the Corps of Engineers about $400,000 a year if the locks are closed- most of that is spent to pay operators.
While closing the locks could impact bass fishing in the area, it could also affect aquatic life.
Division of Natural Resources Biologist Frank Jernejcic says fish which travel through the locks, carry mussels, and lock closures could adversely impact the mussels ability to spread through the river.