Starting this month, anglers and other boaters will find water access reduced --- in some cases, even eliminated --- at reservoir systems managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In a few cases, new restrictive policies already are in place.
Officials cite budget constraint as the reason. They say that aging infrastructure requires that they direct funding that normally would go to lower priority facilities and operations to those with higher priorities.
Among the lowest priorities is lock service, especially on systems where commercial traffic has diminished or, in some cases, disappeared entirely. As a consequence, service has been or will be reduced and/or eliminated at 63 locks nationwide.
In West Virginia, that policy translates into lost access on the Upper Monongahela River, a popular bass fishery.
“With the proposed lock closings, recreational users will have extremely limited access to the two middle pools in West Virginia,” says Jerod Harman, conservation director for the West Virginia B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. “The Corps will basically shut down 13.4 miles of navigable waters, or approximately 1/3 of the fishable waters on the river in West Virginia.
“But, more importantly, this has restricted the thoroughfare from Fairmont to Morgantown. It would be kind of like the only bridge was lost on a major interstate highway. You can either drive on ‘that side’ or you can drive on ‘this side.’ But you can’t get there from here!”
The Alabama, Allegheny, Arkansas, Black Warrior, Chattahoochee, Cumberland, Mississippi, Ouachita, Red, Tennessee, West Pearl, and many other systems also will see locks service reduced or even eliminated for recreational traffic.
As a consequence, some fisheries, such as Hildebrand Pool on the Monongahela, no longer will have public access.
“It’s outrageous,” says Barry Pallay, vice president of the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA), which has been working with the Corps, communities, B.A.S.S., and others to maintain recreational access.
“Not only is there not access at Hildebrand, but the only access on the Morgantown Pool, Uffington boat ramp, gets silted in.”
With locks closed to recreational traffic, anglers also will be denied the freedom to fish several pools from one launch site, while larger pleasure craft won’t be able to cruise through a system, On the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF), for example, boaters can no longer go from Eufaula, Ala., to Apalachicola, Fla.
That’s because locks at Walter F. George (Lake Eufaula), George W. Andrews, and Jim Woodruff (Lake Seminole) rank as only a “1” in importance. Level 6 locks are manned 24/7, while level 1 locks are opened for commercial navigation by appointment only.
“We’d have to have at least more than a thousand recreational lockages to raise up to level 3, which involves someone manning the locks one shift per day,” says Bill Smallwood, ACF project manager.
The three locks had no commercial traffic in 2011, with recreational lockages numbered nearly 300 at Lake Eufaula and 140 at Seminole.
Out on the Ouachita, a new lock operation schedule means service reduced from 24 hours to 18 hours a day at two Louisiana locks and from 24 hours to 16 hours at two Arkansas locks.
"This could be the beginning of the end for this project," said Bill Hobgood, executive director of the Ouachita River Valley Association.
But the UMRA, B.A.S.S., and others are determined to protect and restore access for recreational use on these systems.
“I am working with Gordon Robertson at the American Sportfishing Association to set up a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to discuss the serious impacts that closure of 60 locks will have for recreational fishing and boating,” said Noreen Clough, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.
UMRA, meanwhile, intends to find a solution, possibly one that can be applied nationally, and Pallay says that Corps officials, in turn, have been cooperative.
During a joint public meeting in July, officers from the Pittsburgh District said this in their Power Point presentation:
“As the federal government steps out, who steps in? We are willing to try anything; to explore any idea. Let’s set the example for the nation on how to do this right.”
UMRA has placed some of its recommendations in a resolution endorsed by communities along the Upper Monongahela. Among them: open the locks during recreation boating season, authorize use of part-time employees or even auxiliary volunteers as lock operators, and investigate innovative ways to fund operation of locks.
“We want to find ways to keep the locks open while we work on long-term solutions,” Pallay says. “And now we are ratcheting up the effort.
“We’re hoping that by April of next year we will be testing a pilot or demonstration project that can be replicated in other places.”
(Reprinted from B.A.S.S. Times.)