Corps grilled over plan for Alabama River

Published 9:50 pm Thursday, September 20, 2012

Army Corps of Engineers discussed plans to restrict access of locks and dams along the Alabama River during a meeting Wednesday in Monroeville.

MONROEVILLE — “The purpose of this meeting is for the Mobile District of the Corps of Engineers to listen to some things that you have to say. That’s what it is primarily, a good listening session for them,” Jerry Sailors, president of the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, said in his opening to approximately 50 stakeholders Wednesday.

The stakeholders and the four Corps representatives gathered in Monroeville to discuss the Corps’ initiative for the locks along the Alabama River, which will go into affect on Oct. 7.

The crowd had a lot of opinions about the Corps’ decision to close the locks to recreational traffic, and allow commercial traffic through by appointment only, and was finally given an outlet to express them.

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Wynn Fuller, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chief of operations in the Mobile District explained the changes being made on the locks’ levels of service came from their headquarters.

“In the fall of 2011, our administration came out with a directive that all agencies would be tasked to identify programs that were considered low performing … to help address the national deficit,” Fuller said.

The Corps said they are looking for a way to cut costs, and this plan is a way to address those needs.

Fuller considered the meeting in Monroeville, “an opportunity for us to get some feedback from [the stakeholders], and understand what [their] concerns and issues are, so as we put the final touches to the plan, we can, as much as possible, take that into account.”

Those attending shared their concerns for nearly two hours, and the Corps representatives did their best to answer questions and take notes that will help them in submitting a final plan to their headquarters.

The main issues discussed were the need and importance of recreational traffic, the importance of economical development along the river and the general welfare of stakeholders and communities along the river as well as their quality of life.

“I think what I hear, a message from you all,” Sailors said, “is there is some sort of accommodation that you are able to live by, whether [use of the locks] is on weekend only, a couple of days a week, or a certain period of time, something that you know and could schedule your itineraries by, you would be happy with it.”

Residents like William Steadham agreed.

“We would work with you in most any kind of way,” Steadham said to the Corps. “I mean, if we know what the rules are, we can play the game.”

Steadham’s stake in the river is his boat. He and his wife Pat plan to do a lot of traveling.

“If the locks are closed to us, what good does our boat do us,” Pat said.

“Everybody’s got stake [in the river,]” Steadham said. “They may not have expressed their concerns, but it’s going to affect a lot more people than were here tonight, in one way or another.”

Fuller was overall pleased with the interaction Wednesday.

“I thought it was good, honest dialogue,” Fuller said. “I think they did a great job of expressing their concerns and issues, and certainly giving us some things to take into account as we try to finalize the pan.”

Fuller said no decisions would be made solely at his level, but the thoughts expressed in Monroeville will help, “justify some areas to mitigate some of the issues. We’ll take this into account.”

Sailors said he wasn’t surprised by the tough questions asked of the Corps of Engineers faced and left the meeting feeling as though the concerns of the stakeholders were adequately heard.

“The purpose of this was so [the Corps] were able to hear from the mouths of people who are being affected by this first hand, and what their concerns are,” Sailors said. “I think they deserved an audience.”