Montgmery Locks And Dams Repairs ‘Should Be Dealt With Now’

Green jobs for cleaner bulk transport

By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times

USep 17, 2019 – POTTER TWP. — Tuesday offered beautiful weather for a tugboat ride on the Ohio River to view the Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant site, but it was a distressing situation on those same waters that concerned an influential Ohio congresswoman.

After touring the Montgomery Locks and Dam at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17, Mount Lebanon, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, expressed dismay at the crumbling condition of the 83-year-old structure.

“It’s a poster child for why Congress needs to pass an infrastructure bill and why the president needs to sign it,” said Kaptur, a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and chairwoman of that committee’s subcommittee on energy and water development.

“This is really serious here,” said Kaptur, noting the cracks in the locks and damn officials pointed out to her on the walking tour. “This should be dealt with now, not five years from now, not 10 years from now. Now.”

A $1.09 million project to temporarily fix the damaged middle-lock wall began about a year ago with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimating that it had a 50 percent chance of failing in the next decade if it were not addressed.

A catastrophic failure would halt all river traffic, officials warned, and would significantly damage the regional economy. With construction on Shell’s $6 billion cracker plant now in full swing, repairing the locks and dam is even more vital, Lamb said.

“Fixing the locks and dams, especially the Montgomery Locks, is one of the most import infrastructure needs of western Pennsylvania, and it’s one that we can actually do,” Lamb said. “It’s cracked concrete, and we know how to fix that.”

Lamb and Kaptur were joined on the tour by officers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mary Ann Bucci, the executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, and Matt Smith, the president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and a former Allegheny County state senator.

The group toured the locks and dam and then climbed aboard a Campbell Transportation Co. tugboat to soak in a river view of the cracker plant before returning to shore.

Smith said keeping the Ohio River navigable for goods and products is essential to the region’s success.

“It’s billions of dollars of economic development,” he said.

Part of Lamb’s job now is convincing House colleagues in leadership roles, such as Kaptur, that the region’s locks and dams must be upgraded immediately.

In an April letter to Kaptur and her subcommittee’s ranking Republican, Lamb and four colleagues — U.S. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14, Peters Township; Mike Doyle, D-18, Forest Hills; David McKinley, R-W. Va.; and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio — asked for the “highest possible increase” in funding for the Corps of Engineers’ account for pre-construction, engineering and design.

The bipartisan group noted that the account was funded at $125 million in the 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, which is $48 million higher than the $77 million requested in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

Appropriating the highest amount would allow for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project to pursue funding. The region’s locks and dams fall under that project.

Kaptur credited Lamb with bringing photos of the Montgomery Locks’ condition to a subcommittee hearing to prove how bad the situation is there.

“A picture is worth a thousand words. We’re all very proud of America and proud of the places that we come from and when you see a cracked and degraded piece of infrastructure it makes you feel a little bit of ashamed,” Lamb said.

“That’s our responsibility as public officials … to maintain and improve that stuff so we can have a good quality of life,” he said. “I think the picture really communicates that, that we’ve let this go on for way too long and its urgent that we fix it right away.”

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