Questions addressed at river forum

Published 11:09pm Friday, February 22, 2013

MONTGOMERY — The Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association held a free forum on recreational river usage in part with their annual meeting in Montgomery Thursday, Feb. 21, where stakeholders were able to discuss issues regarding the Alabama River including access, permitting, safety, the locks’ availability and more.

Wynne Fuller, chief of operations division from the Corps’ Mobile District, explained to stakeholders that the Corps is in a time of extremely constrained resources, but they want to keep the river available to the citizens of the state and nation.

“At one time it looked as though we were going to have to shut down all our locks [on the Alabama River] entirely. We managed to avoid that — but I will say by the hair of our chinny chin chin,” he said, mentioning the Corps’ new proposal for the locks hours of operation was largely due to the impact various organizations had on relaying the river’s importance to Alabama’s congressional leadership. “That was made very clear to the Corps’ leadership. So frankly, they bent the rules. The rules haven’t changed, but they bent them or turned a blind eye to some of the things the district said we were prepared to do to continue to allow the public to have access to the locks.”

While the Corps proposed a new lock operations schedule that allows recreational traffic to passed through the locks in conjunction with maintenance operations 10 hours per day, four days per week, stakeholders still had questions concerning operations.

Mike Hancock of Selma asked whether or not he and his family would be able to travel between the lock, a question many of the river’s stakeholders seemed to share.

“The way we’re operating now — we’re there one shift, four days a week and those days can vary, and it could be that the manpower is busy helping at one of the other locks, so it’s not a concrete schedule. But if we’re there at the lock and somebody’s there and needs to go through, we’ll lock them through whether it’s just you and your boat,” Danny Hensley, operations project manager form the Corps’ Mobile District answered. “Now you do take on some risk in what your schedule is and when you need to get back down. On a recreational lockage, in order for us to be able to continue to lock recreational boats, we had to do it in conjunction with activities. So when we’re there and you’re there, we’ll lock you through, but we can’t guarantee a certain schedule.”

Hensely encouraged boaters to call ahead and talk to the lockmaster to see when they’re going to be there.

One stakeholder raised another question regarding calling ahead.

“Everybody’s saying call ahead, but where can I get that telephone number? There are no signs posted at marinas and campsites.”

While the numbers are all available online, Hensely said the numbers are also posted on the locks themselves.

But stakeholders said they wanted more, noting there is currently no public posted telephone numbers of the locks at the Corps’ campsites and local marinas — an issue that leadership said they plan to take into consideration.

“Kind of read between the lines here. The locks aren’t operated for recreational purposes. We are accommodating you, when we can, in conjunction with maintenance activities, fishing passage, those sorts of things. We’re stretching things a bit. We can’t officially say that we’re going to open for recreation purposes, otherwise we’re contrary to policy,” Fuller said, trying to explain why there is not currently a public posting of the lock operators schedules — something else stakeholders said would help them plan ahead with the new lock hours of operation in addition to the phone number of the locks themselves. “We’re trying to walk the tight rope there, and recognize that we’re dealing with an imperfect policy that nonetheless we have to respect. We’re trying to have our cake and eat it too. Is it going to be convenient for everyone all the time? No, I’m afraid it’s not, but we’re going to do the best we can with it.”







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