BY THE NUMBERS
• 318 — Number of miles of navigable river served upstream of the Chickamauga Lock, and threatened by its closure.
• 2.7 million — Number of tons of cargo shipped through the Chickamauga Lock each year at its peak.
• 11.7 million — Projected tonnage through an expanded Chickamauga Lock by 2060.
• $693 million — Estimated cost of the new and expanded Chickamauga Lock, which could be completed by 2018.
• $186 million — Investment so far toward the new lock.
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
• The existing 360-foot by 60-foot lock was built in 1940 and is too small for jumbo barges and suffers from structural concrete problems caused by the reaction between the alkali in the cement and the rock aggregate.
• Funding for repairs and new locks is inadequate because available funds are being absorbed by costly dam and lock repairs on the Ohio River.
• The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending between $2 million to $3 million a year to monitor conditions, install tension anchor rods and maintain gates and valves at the existing lock.
• A new 100-foot by 600-foot lock is being built on the riverward side of the existing lock. But the project stalled last year when funding ran out.
The crumbling Chickamauga lock could run out of maintenance money next year unless a new funding formula is adopted for America’s inland waterways.
With work on a bigger replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam already stalled because of a lack of money, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013 doesn’t include any funds to maintain the existing lock. During a tour for two key members of the U.S. House Transportation Committee on Friday, lock engineers said problems with concrete growth in the chamber could force the river passageway to close permanently within the next three years without additional maintenance.
“The president’s budget for fiscal 2013 has zero funds for the lock, and that is unacceptable,” U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said Friday after reviewing the 72-year-old lock. “I have been pressing very, very hard to get funding for the Chickamauga lock because I know that this lock is critical to this region.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which took over the TVA-built lock in the 1990s, has spent $186 million so far to reroute roads, install a coffer dam and prepare walls and gates for a new and bigger replacement lock at the Chickamauga Dam. But funding has run dry in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund because of the recession and cost overruns at other, higher priority projects on the Ohio River.
The Corps estimates it will need at least another $507 million to finish building the new lock at the Chickamauga Dam. But the costs for fixing the higher priority Olmsted Locks and Dam on the Ohio River are eating up all of the available money.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of a key House transportation subcommittee, said the funding formula for locks and dams needs to change to ensure projects like the new Chickamauga lock get fixed.
“This is an important lock, and we’ve got to make sure that there is at least the funding to do the maintenance on the old lock while we work to get funding to finish the new lock,” Shuster said. “We need to reform the system to make sure it is going out evenly.”
BARGE TAX DEBATE
Even with more taxpayer funds, there aren’t enough matching private dollars from barge fuel taxes to pay for most of the $8 billion of projects the Corps of Engineers has begun on inland waterways. New locks now are funded equally with taxpayer dollars and funds put in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund from barge fuel taxes.
The barge industry has proposed raising the current 20-cents-per-gallon tax up to as high as 29 cents per gallon to boost the trust fund and leverage more lock improvements. U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., is drafting a bill in Congress to replenish the Inland Waterways Trust Fund by raising barge fuel taxes in exchange for the federal government taking over total funding for dam projects such as the Olmsted Dam.
But both Shuster and Fleischmann said they are not convinced that taxes need to be raised.
“In this economy I’m not in favor of seeing any taxes go up,” Shuster said.
Since 1999, the Army Corps has spent $26.5 million on its aggressive maintenance program to keep the existing Chickamauga lock open past TVA’s original 2005 predicted closure date, including $3.1 million in the current fiscal year.
“We’ve run cables through the concrete to anchor the chamber walls, but those anchors are a temporary fix like a Band-Aid, and we anticipate that they would last until only about 2015,” said Lt. Col. James DeLapp, the chief of the Army Corps’ Nashville district. “So within the next three years, those could fail and we would have shut the lock down.”
If the Chickamauga lock closes, 318 miles of navigable river upstream of Chattanooga with 31 barge terminals would be cut off from river traffic.
Ken Corley, plant manager for the Olin Chlor Alkali Products plant in Charleston, Tenn., said the Chickamauga lock “is critical” for shipments of Olin’s raw materials and finished projects.
“Significant resources have already been invested in the construction of the new lock, and the project should be completed in a timely manner,” he said Friday.
Nearly one-third of the work done so far on the new Chickamauga lock was paid from the stimulus package Congress adopted in early 2009 at the urging of Obama.
Both Shuster and Fleischmann opposed the stimulus package and complained Friday that not enough of the money was spent on infrastructure projects such as the Chickamauga lock, and too much was spent on alternative energy projects like the failed Solyndra solar manufacturing plant in California, which declared bankruptcy and shed 900 jobs.
“The president spent $500 million on a plant that went down the tubes,” Shuster said. “He could have probably spent a lot more money here and done a lot more for America.”
Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...