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ELIZABETH, Pa. -- The recently dewatered Monongahela River Locks and Dam No. 3 at Elizabeth, Pennsylvania provided an interesting and relevant backdrop, July 18, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District's discussion about the need to sustain the nation's inland waterways.

Amidst crumbling concrete and rusted rebar, 50 guests representing navigation industry, congressional, and partnering agencies gathered to tour and talk about importance of sustaining the nation's inland waterways.

Standing on the mostly empty lock chamber of America's oldest continuously operating lock, Col. Bernard Lindstrom, district commanding officer, started discussions about the aging navigation infrastructures in the Corps' national inventory.

"Rust never sleeps, concrete does not last forever, and money does not grow on the water," Lindstrom said during his opening remarks.

Elizabeth's dewatering and repairs are just the start.

According to Lindstrom, the two-month repairs are necessary to keep the 107-year old locks and dam operating, but more is needed to sustain the waterways.

"The biggest benefit of gathering today is to talk about the new authorizations that have been given to us and to address how to best fund future projects," Lindstrom said, referring to the recently passed Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.

The act increases the flexibility for non-federal interests and private sector to contribute funds to move studies and projects forward, and enables the Secretary of the Army to accept non-federal funds to operate, maintain, and improve the inland waterways transportation system.

Martin Hettel, Inland Waterways Users Board chairman; David Dale, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, Programs director; and James Hannon Jr., USACE Headquarters, Operations and Regulatory chief kicked out the conversation with visitors.

"Who benefits from the waterways and rivers?" Hannon asked. "Now, how many of them know they benefit?"

And, almost on cue, a coal-filled train passed by to remind visitors of the commerce transportation alternatives - roads, rails, runways and rivers.

"Rivers are very efficient, but all of these efficiencies are being challenged by the aging infrastructure," Hettel said.

Then, as guests broke up into tour groups, Lindstrom encouraged them to ask the tough questions, saying those questions could lead to real solutions in the future.

Walking along the aging infrastructure of the lock chambers of the dam, visitors got a first-hand look at the extent of the repairs vital to the system.

Elizabeth is part of the Lower Mon River project which includes Charleroi and Braddock locks and dams. In 1992, Congress authorized the Corps' plan to modernize the locks and dams on the lower river. Then, the project was expected to be complete in 2004, a decade ago, but inefficient funding has pushed the project date back to at least 2028 with an estimated price tag of $2.7 billion.

For now, repairs are needed to help ensure the locks and dam keep operating and providing benefits to the region and the nation.

"It's important that people understand how they benefit from having a system like this available to them," Jeanine Hoey, Programs and Projects chief said. "The goods that are moved along this system are moved in the most environmentally friendly, safest, and the least expensive method possible."

She said the bottom line is that people pay less for electricity because it is less expensive to move coal and other goods on the rivers verses using trucks and rails.

With all of the benefits of the rivers, Elizabeth and other Lower Mon Projects are the best examples of how the current funding is not working, but new authorities are recognizing other river benefactors who can now contribute and express their interest in sustaining our waterways.

The WRRDA authorizes new funding options, but until there is a better understanding on how it can be used, the district will continue discussions with all interested parties about how to fund repairs and sustain the 23 locks and dams in the Pittsburgh District's inventory.

"Water isn't just used for navigation," Lindstrom said. "It is used for water supply, water quality, and industry uses it. Water is used for hydropower, right here in our region. So, by bringing different people together on this 107-year old locks and dam, you can see the different visions and different ideas on how to best sustain our waterways."

Page last updated Wed July 30th, 2014 at 16:03