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?

  • popdukes12

    Katie: Again, I would just like to tell you what a good job you did on this. You may be (and can be) the reporter that the serious readers of the STJ have been hoping for. A reporter that does their homework and knows enough about the subject matter to ask the secondary questions in addition to the who, what, when, and where questions. Realizing that 99% of the news staff at the STJ are not from Selma, the reporters often miss the secondary questions that the locals want to know. Good luck. pops

  • nancybennett

    Bama, You are exactly right that the place, time and date of the meeting was listed in the 09/18/12 article and I totally missed the last paragraph and my apologies to the STJ and writer of the article. However, like you, it would have been difficult for most people to take that much time off work to drive the 80+ miles to be there for a 5 p.m. meeting. And, like you, I have to wonder if it wasn’t somewhat planned that way.

    • Bama

      In spite of the possible reasons the Corps of Army Engineers may have scheduled a last minute hearing at an inconvenient time, I am incredibly impressed that the STJ has been on top of this issue. Kudos to the STJ and Katie Wood for excellent coverage!

      Katie, perhaps your timely questioning of Senator Sessions was intrumental in his immediate and strong responce to the Corps. Unlike other cities affected by this issue, Selma had a reporter at this hearing to ask the tough questions and to report back to us what happened in this meeting with the Corps and stakeholders.

  • nancybennett

    While I and many others I know many people signed a petition in regard to this issue, I personally did not know a meeting had actually been scheduled. The STJ’s story from 09/15/12 mentioned a meeting would be held but gave no info. as to when or where.

    When I first heard about this issue I wrote an email to Sheryl Smedley and to several in the City Government. I received responses from Ms. Smedley and one from the City, both stating they had heard of this and were checking into it. My question would be were they made aware of the meeting’s time, date and location? How and when did the STJ find out about it and was it early enough to let your reader’s know?

    • Bama

      The STJ gave both the location and time in a well written follow up article on September 18. The meeting unfortunately was held at 5pm making it less than ideal for those of us who cannot easily get off of work early. Perhaps the Army Corp scheduled the meeting at this time for that very reason. I also believe the primary reason the Army Corp agreed to hold this meeting was to appease Senator Sessions(after he wrote a strong letter expressing concern that such a decision would be made without getting input from stakeholders). Every citizen in Selma has a stake in what happens on Alabama River. I’m furious that officals in Washington think they can pick and choose who to bless and who to deny, absent of any input from we the people. Please don’t think I’m not concerned for Selma because I cannot leave work early to attend a meeting 90 minutes away that was scheduled at the last minute by an organization more interested in appeasing Senator Sessions than affected residence in Selma.

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