Alabama governor says river restrictions would hurt economy

Published 1:35 am Saturday, September 29, 2012

LOCKED UP: Gov. Robert Bentley weighed in on the issue of blocking access to the Alabama River.

A day after U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions told a few residents and business leaders in Selma about his opposition to a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to ban recreational boat traffic through locks and dams on the Alabama River, the top political figure in Alabama weighed in.

Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley, announced he had sent a letter to the Corps of Engineers, strongly urging the agency to reconsider their cost-reduction plan that reportedly goes into effect on Oct. 7.

“The rivers in Alabama are extremely important for recreational use in some very unique places in Alabama,” Bentley said, referring to the plan that calls for the restrictions on both the Alabama and Chattahoochee River. “It is also my priority to promote economic and job creation. Our waterways play a major role in transporting goods through the state. Reducing the level of service on Alabama rivers will significantly harm economic development.

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“I strongly urge the Corps to reverse its decision and not reduce the level of service for recreational and commercial boats along our rivers.”

The plan would also require commercial boaters and barges schedule ahead of time access through the locks and dams.

In the letter, Bentley said the Corps’ decision would financially harm the cities and counties along both rivers who depend on the river for their “economic vitality.”

“The Corps’ navigation decision will financially hurt both in the present and long term,” Bentley wrote. “Miller’s Ferry Lock and Dam, for example, is located in Wilcox County. Unemployment in this county is at 19.6 percent with a 72 percent black population and per capita income of $12,573. This region depends on the river for economic vitality.”

Bentley also referred to a recent economic impact study by the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association that showed recreational and outdoor activities, has created an estimated 10,980 jobs, $283 million in salaries and wages, as well as $60 million in state and local taxes.

In closing, Bentley wrote, “it is my priority to promote economic development and job creation in the state. I urge the [Corps of Engineers] to reconsider all factors and conclude that reducing the levels of service of Alabama’s rivers is not the solution to achieving more cost-efficient operations.”