Budget cuts threaten river

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

If President George W. Bush’s Federal Budget Proposal for financial year 2005 is passed by congress, it could have a major negative impact on the Alabama River and the economic stability of the entire western portion of the state.

Standing before a crowd of area business owners and representatives from state and municipal governments on Wednesday, Col. Bob Keyser of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers delivered despairing news about the fate of the river during the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association (CARIA) meeting at the Carl C. Morgan Convention Center.

The passage of the Federal Budget Proposal, as it stands, would eliminate funding to operate and maintain the navigation locks of the three dams on the Alabama River.

Email newsletter signup

With no money to operate the locks, Keyser said, the water levels of the river will have to be lowered as much as 15 feet in some areas and the navigation channel would close.

This could have a devastating effect on a number of companies, including International Paper and the upcoming Hyundai plant, that rely on the river for production, shipping, and overall operation.

“If we don’t get this money, we’ll have to pull the water level down at Millers Ferry and Jones Bluff and basically dry the river up. It will become nothing but a creek,” Keyser. “This will mean additional trucking traffic of large-ton items that the highways can’t handle and the environment can’t handle, but the waterways can. Companies from here to Mobile would also have to spend millions more in trucking costs, leading to a financial burden.”

Ralph Clemens, president of CARIA, said business leaders and communities need to demonstrate to congress how important it is to keep the locks operating.

“If we shut down the Alabama River, we are looking at the dissolution of major projects that could have been shipped down the river,” Clemens said. “I think it is essential that we talk to our senators and congressmen about what this river means to us.”

Mayor James Perkins, a CARIA board member, said this is not the first time funding for the Alabama River navigation channel has been threatened.

“Every year, members of the CARIA board and myself have to go to Washington and ask to continue funding of the locks, and every year we are successful. This is the first year there is a threat of losing money for the locks, dam and dredging.” Perkins said.

Perkins said this threat is one of the most challenging economic, community, and environmental impact issues facing this region.

All those who attended the meeting, the mayor said, made a commitment to develop a long-term strategy to help continue the funding of the navigation channel.

“We need to focus not just on next year, but the year after that and the year after that,” Perkins said. “This is not the time to panic, but there is cause for concern.”