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Officials hopeful of finally obtaining funding for Lower Mon locks, dams project | TribLIVE.com
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Officials hopeful of finally obtaining funding for Lower Mon locks, dams project

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Cindy Shegan Keeley | Trib Total Media
Elizabeth No. 3 Locks and Dam still is scheduled for eventual demolition, but no earlier than 2024, if annual funding for overhauling the lower Monongahela River locks and dams continues at the pace proposed for 2015-16, $52 million a year.

Area congressmen are optimistic that federal funds will be available soon for a full year's work of upgrading locks and dams on the lower Monongahela River.

John Rizzo, spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, said Wednesday a bill with $52 million for the Lower Mon Project was released May 21 by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Matt Dinkel, spokesman for Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said that $52 million is included in House of Representatives Bill 2028, an appropriations measure passed May 1.

Part of a $1.7 billion project, the $52 million is to be used in fiscal 2015-16 at the Charleroi No. 4 Locks and Dam by the Army Corps of Engineers.

That's part of a project to upgrade Charleroi No. 4 and Braddock No. 2 locks and dams and eliminate Elizabeth No. 3 Locks and Dam.

It started in 1992 with an estimated price tag of $700 million and a completion date of 2004. But by then only the Braddock facility was upgraded. Since 1906, it is the third dam to be built at the site, 11.3 miles upstream from Pittsburgh.

“It's an incredibly important project,” Port of Pittsburgh Commission executive director Steve Martinko said. “It suffered over the years from chronic underfunding.”

Martinko said the federal government only allows an appropriation for each fiscal year on a given project, rather than a lump sum that could be spent over multiple years.

Pittsburgh Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Dan Jones said the completion date now is no earlier than 2024 — and could extend until 2030. But all that, Jones said, is “if all the stars align” and “efficient funding” continues.

“It is better than getting a couple million dollars,” Jones said. “It is a good boost to the project, so we can start moving this project forward.”

Martinko said getting $52 million involved hard work by his agency, the community, industries that use Pittsburgh's rivers and “exceptional leadership” from Casey and McKeesport native Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Bedford County.

“Western Pennsylvania's locks and dams are part of the region's economic foundation,” Casey said. “It's critical that we maintain and invest in this economic asset.”

Shuster, who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, represents the Ninth Congressional District that includes the Charleroi area.

Provisions from the text of HR 2028 include “$232,000,000 for construction of the Olmsted Locks and Dam project (on the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky) and the Locks 2, 3, and 4, Monongahela River project, as well as $108,000,000 above the budget request for additional capital improvements to the inland waterways system.”

A further breakdown included in House and Senate legislation lists the $52 million for the three Mon River locks and dams.

Jones said $52 million will allow the Corps “to award Option One for the river chamber completion project (at Charleroi) as well as support for the ongoing construction contracts (for two new lock chambers) and some potential real estate acquisitions.”

After two new larger locks are installed at Charleroi, a dam at mile marker 41.5 built in 1936, the focus would turn to Elizabeth No. 3.

The locks and dam built in 1908 at mile marker 23.8 will be removed, leaving 30 miles of open river between Braddock and Charleroi.

The Corps said removal of Elizabeth No. 3 would make a single pool between Braddock and Elizabeth and cause the Mon to rise by 5 feet, while the river would drop by 3.2 feet between Elizabeth and Charleroi.

The Corps insisted there would be no increase in flooding along the Mon. The Corps said the project includes funding for design and relocation of municipal facilities along the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers adversely affected by the project pool changes.

When Elizabeth No. 3 is demolished, the Corps proposes dredging approximately 1.2 million cubic yards of river bed material from the Mon upstream of Elizabeth.

The material would be used to reclaim a former slag dump in the Victory Hills section of Carroll.

The Lower Mon Project is one of three in Pennsylvania getting funding in HR 2028, with $59 million for the East Branch of the Clarion River and $1 million for a levee in the Wyoming Valley.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or [email protected].

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