CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) Funds for a new lock at Chickamauga Dam are being drained by declining fuel use by barge operators combined with rising construction costs for other dam projects.
Industry officials said it threatens the future of the project and use of the Tennessee River.
Without Congressional action, work may be suspended within the next year on the lock, one of Chattanooga’s biggest construction projects. Under the current funding approach, there isn’t enough money to continue building new locks at both the Chickamauga and Kentucky dams on the Tennessee River, according to a report given to the Inland Waterway Users Board in December.
“We’re facing the prospect of at least a decade-long suspension of work on the new Chickamauga lock, which could close off the river altogether above Chattanooga in the next five years or so, unless something is done,” said Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, a barge industry group based in Decatur, Ala.
Tennessee lawmakers said they are intent on keeping the lock project moving ahead to avoid closing off the Chickamauga lock and more than 318 mi. of navigable river above Chattanooga. Congressional backers of the lock are considering industry proposals this winter, ranging from higher diesel taxes on barges to a special appropriation under an upcoming military spending bill.
The current lock at the Chickamauga Dam, which opened in 1940, is suffering from “concrete growth” and even with extra maintenance could become inoperable after 2015. In its place, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is building a larger lock comparable with those downstream of Chattanooga to allow barges to pass through the Chickamauga Dam quicker and at less cost.
According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, 2 million tons of cargo a year pass through the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.
Commercial users of navigable rivers pay 20 cents per gallon of fuel into the Inland Waterways Fuel Tax Trust Fund, which matches federal appropriated funds for Army Corps of Engineers’ projects.
The tax generates about $85 million a year, but that tax combined with federal appropriations generates only a fraction of the estimated $7 billion expense to complete current Corps projects, including the Chickamauga lock replacement.