Sen. Sessions says he sees potential in Alabama River

Published 12:34 am Friday, September 28, 2012

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) spoke with local leaders Thursday about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan for the locks level of service on the Alabama River and addressed other local concerns. -- Sarah Cook

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) attended the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Thursday.

Sessions addressed the chamber, providing an update on federal issues impacting area small businesses, job creation and the community. Those updates included discussion of the budget and the need to enact a long-term plan to change the nation’s debt course.

The buzzword of the luncheon was “unsustainable.”

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“We need to focus on paying down the debt,” Sessions said. “In the next 10 years the smallest deficit that we will have under the numbers of President Obama’s budget that he submitted to us shows a $540 billion deficit, and it’s going up.”

Sessions added, “We can’t tax our way out of this. It’s going to take cities and counties everywhere to figure out how to live within our means the best we can. We need to as a nation, to rally the American people that business as usual can’t continue.”

The subject of discontinuing the usual is something that struck a chord with the chamber. The majority of the luncheon was spent discussing the discontinuing of recreational traffic through the lock and dam system on the Alabama River, a plan that will soon be implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“The problems we’re having with recreational traffic being disallowed through the lock and dams, is already a problem from an industry standpoint, just on lack of navigability” Kim Ballard said. “You know how much recreational dollars are spent in Wilcox County especially, and Dallas County.”

Sessions responded to the issue that seemed to be on everyone’s mind.

“I’ll tell you what, I don’t see how they can build these dams and not figure out reasonable access to go up and down the river,” he said. ���That was part of the contract, the understanding when they built the dam, that they’d maintain navigability, so I’m worried about it.”

Sessions added, “I think there’s a lot of potential on the Alabama [River].”

Potential that Wayne Vardaman, executive director of the Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority said is currently lost because of the lack of dredging.

“They won’t dredge it. Dredging has caused this whole problem,” Vardaman said. “We have personally lost here, two to three possible projects this year that would’ve used the river.”

Vardaman explained to the chamber, “[Dredging] is one of those things if we don’t dredge it, we can’t get the traffic. If we can’t get the traffic, we get reclassified like we did. You get reclassified, they don’t open the locks.”

Vardaman told Sessions that he appreciated the letter that was sent to the Corps, but “We still need your help,” he said.

Sessions responded, assuring the chamber that he will continue to push the issue.

“The Corps has a certain amount of money, and the Corps is supposed to use that money on priority matters,” Sessions said. “We’ll see if we can’t convince them that this is a priority. It’s expensive, but in terms of the size of the Corps’ budget, it’s not that big.”

Sessions noted that his letter has received a good deal of support and he said having the whole delegation sign on to the letter, helped give it strength.

“We haven’t heard back from the Corps, but I feel very strongly that they need to set up a mechanism by which the public can raise their concerns.”