The President's 2012 budget provides $76 million for the Army Corps of Engineers low use navigation projects -- last year it was $140 million. In the Pittsburgh region that reduction will hit the Allegheny River System the hardest, cutting funding from $8 million to $4 million. Army Corps spokesman Jeff Hawk says that's because the Allegheny is such a small player when it comes to commercial traffic, "One facility at Emsworth, which is the first lock on the Ohio River, locks approximately ten times as much cargo through its chambers each year than does the entire Allegheny River system." On average, the Allegheny contributes about 2.5 of the 630 million tons of cargo that travel the nation's inland waterways. Because of the funding cuts, the Army Corps is considering how to reduce service on the Allegheny; one option is to provide full service on Locks 2 and 4 with no recreational traffic lockages available at Locks 5-9. The other option is to reduce shifts and limit operating hours at the first three locks and provide limited recreational service at Locks 5-7, while Locks 8 and 9 would only serve commercial vessels by appointment. Hawk says recreational users will feel the brunt of the funding cuts, but he notes that the river system has plenty of benefits that never factor into the funding equation, "these pools are used for water supply for sanitary treatment and for drinking and hydro-power, they provide a stable pool for riverfront development, and they provide a sustained aquatic environment." Hawk says the rivers belong to the public and it's important they have a voice in what the river system looks like in the future.
The Army Corps will hold two public information sessions on the Allegheny River System:
February 22 at O'Hara Elementary School at 6 p.m. and February 24 at the West Kittanning Fire Department at 7 p.m.