A spokesman at the US Army Corps of Engineers verified for me today that the "situation is fluid" and that lock operation on October 7th will be "business as usual." That date, originally the starting point for the implementation of a policy to close the locks on the Alabama and Chattahoochee rivers for commercial traffic except by appointment, is now pointed to as the date the plan, now under revision to accomodate public and business input into it, will be finished.
Additional time to amend the plan is needed because of the Corp's desire to accommodate the public's interest in keeping the locks open to recreational traffic. The Corps is, after all, buckling down to figure out what the real costs of operations are and what the real costs of curtailing lock use might be, an effort that is welcomed by the ASRT. They have a huge task awaiting them, balancing diminishing budgets, aging equipment, an unhelpful economic climtate and an unhelpful regional climate to acheive something that everyone can live with.
While the Corps is at it, how about changing the way they measure river traffic from the way they do it now—sheer tonnage—and go to something that makes much more sense, like VALUE of good shipped? Think about it—one rocket is worth thousands of barges full of gravel. The nuclear reactor parts moved through the locks on the Chattahoochee last year may have been worth more than all the wood chips that ever went down it. Who's looking at that? And what about—dare I even say it—recreation?
It should be noted here that the original plan included neither public discussion nor opening the locks to recreational traffic. The public discussion has already occured in an about face last week when USACE officials met with some 55 citizens in Monroeville. The attempt to incorporate the public's demand for the use of their rivers has the decisionmakers looking in the right direction, but nothing final has been decided in that regard. Look for a final announcement, one that may include any number of compromises, on or about October 7th.
Also worth mentioning: We are probably going to be looking at 40 hour a week operations, and those 40 hours are probably going to be Monday through Friday.
We credit the Corps in coming to their senses in this matter. If the locks really are losing money and can't be operated any more, let's get on with it. But evidence that I see points to a hasty decision made by people a thousand miles away who have had, until now, little incentive to understand what our rivers mean to us in Alabama.
We at the Alabama Scenic River Trail thank all of the public for their input—the emails, phone calls, 1300 names and comments—and the assistance we've gotten from Senator Sessions and the Alabama Delegation. We may or may not like what gets handed down in October, but at least—as Alabamians and all the other Americans who spoke up for this effort—we have been heard.
Director, Alabama Scenic River Trail