Selma, where’s your stake in the river?

Published 11:49pm Friday, September 21, 2012

For more than a week now, I have been covering the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision to close the locks on the Alabama River to recreational traffic. The Corps’ initiative plan goes into affect on Oct.7 and states that the locks on the Alabama River will be open only to commercial traffic, by appointment only.

While covering this story’s development, and finding out how it will affect Selma and its residents, I spoke with many different types of sources; Selma city officials, stakeholders, Alabama senators and members of Congress, as well as the Corps of Engineers.

Candace Johnson, director of the city of Selma’s tourism department, said she is unsure of how this change will affect Selma’s tourism, but emphasized the city’s huge stake in the river.

“We certainly do not want any setbacks.” Johnson said. “The river offers a great economic impact for tourism that we need to tap into, and not be taking steps back.”

For many, the Corps’ plan seems to be a huge step back and I’ve been hearing them vent their concerns and complaints over the locks all week.

Wednesday night however, stakeholders were finally granted the audience they had been desperately vying for since they were made aware of the changes that will take place on their river.

Stakeholders had the opportunity to voice their opinions directly to the Corps Wednesday in Monroeville. The meeting was open to the public, and heading into it I was not sure what to expect.

The online petition started by Jim Felder of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, to push back against closing Alabama River locks to recreational traffic has more than 1,200 supporters. This issue is obviously important to both residents and communities along the river, and this meeting with the Corps could have had hundreds of residents present to express their concerns.

The meeting in Monroeville was their one opportunity to speak directly to the Corps, their one chance to influence the Corps’ thinking and make a difference for themselves and these river communities. It was the time to speak up.

The meeting that served as a listening session for the Corps, was the time for issues to be raised that the Corps will take into consideration when they re-draft their final initiative plan for the river.

Think of what an impact it would have made if those hundreds who felt strongly enough to sign the petition, actually came out and did something about it. What kind of message would that have sent to the Corps? That would be a message in itself that they could not ignore.

Instead, there were 50 stakeholders in attendance. A number, who meeting organizer Jerry Sailors, president of the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, said he was pleased with.

He may have been pleased, but as I made my way through the crowd, hearing stories from the stakeholders, I introduced myself as, “Katie Wood from The Selma Times-Journal.” The initial reaction I got from them was, “Where are the people from Selma?”

I asked myself the same question.

After the meeting it was obvious that change is going to happen one way or another, and that change will affect residents in Selma who travel recreationally through the locks.

This was your chance to speak up. So let me ask you again, where were you Selma?

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