By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama issued written comments following a decision Wednesday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revise its lock operation plans for the Alabama and Chattahoochee Rivers. Both Sessions and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) had strongly objected to plans to close the Alabama and Chattahoochee lock system to recreational traffic. Senator Sessions had sent a letter to the Corps advocating for the change in plan. Senator Sessions is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Sen. Sessions said, “I’m pleased that, after receiving our letter last month, the Army Corps held a public meeting to hear from stakeholders and ultimately agreed not to close the Alabama River and Chattahoochee River locks. Alabamians have a right to utilize the incredible natural resources of our state and I am glad that the Army Corps has changed course. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
On September 17, Sessions organized a letter asking the Corps to reverse their plans to save money by closing the locks to recreational traffic and only using the locks for commercial shipping by appointment. The letter was signed by U.S. Representatives Jo Bonner (R) from Mobile, Martha Roby (R) from Montgomery, Mike Rogers (R) from Saks, Robert Aderholt (R) from Haleyville, Mo Brooks (R) from Huntsville, Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia, and Terri Sewell (D) from Selma and was sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy.
In the letter the Alabama Congressional Delegation wrote, “The Corps should not proceed with implementing its level of service initiative in this manner.” The Alabama Delegation asked that instead, “All stakeholders should be provided with a meaningful opportunity to offer comments on the proposal.”
Governor Robert Bentley said in his written statement, “The rivers in Alabama are extremely important for recreational use in some very unique places in Alabama. It is also my priority to promote economic development and job creation. Our waterways play a major role in transporting goods through the state. Reducing the level of service on Alabama rivers will significantly harm economic development.”
Sen. Sessions and the delegation urged the Corps to, “work directly with our constituents to address site-specific needs, such as necessary accommodations to ensure operation of locks for important. such as large fishing tournaments, busy recreational seasons (particularly the summer months), and other times when reliable lock service is necessary and warranted.” The letter also urged the Corps to “evaluate all possible options that will both maximize the efficient use of taxpayer funds while also ensuring that our nation’s marine highways remain open to all Americans.”
The Corps scrapped that old plan and announced Wednesday new hours of operation for the Alabama and Chattahoochee Rivers beginning February 1, 2013. The locks on both rivers will be manned 10 hours per day, four days per week. Commercial boats can lock through 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by scheduling an appointment. The Corps also agreed to modify lock operating hours to accommodate special events like large fishing tournaments.