Summer with open Armstrong County locks another step closer
Negotiations are done for an agreement that will open four locks on the Allegheny River in Armstrong County to recreational boating next summer.
“We’re pretty much done with negotiating. We’ve settled on approximately how many dates they want service, and we’ll be putting things like that into the agreement,” Army Corps of Engineers engineer Lenna Hawkins said.
The Corps has been working with the Allegheny River Development Corporation and a similar group in West Virginia, which wants to reopen locks on the Monongahela River, on the agreement that will spell out operational dates and how payment will be made to the government by the private agencies.
“These rivers are known for commerce navigation, but over the years have established a long history of recreational use. It’s a great opportunity to bring that back to the region,” Hawkins said.
Bringing that opportunity back to the region has been an arduous process. ARDC, a group formed five decades ago to spur riverfront development in Kittanning, was resurrected in the wake of the cuts to river navigation funding that closed the locks in Armstrong County in 2012.
Recently, the organization received a $120,000 grant from PennDOT to help fund lock operations in the 2015 boating season. The ARDC must contribute $40,000 in matching funds to get the grant.
ARDC President Linda Hemmes said the group is happy with the results of negotiations to hammer out the agreement with the Corps. Once finalized, the agreement will have to be approved by top Corps officials in Washington.
“At this point, it appears we gave them a schedule that is pretty solid,” Hemmes said about days locks would be open.
The tentative schedule includes one shift from noon to 8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, plus the same on holidays during boating season.
Opening locks for special events, from the Kittanning Folk Festival to the East Brady River Fest, will be included in the agreement. ARDC aims to have the locks open as late as 1 a.m. on those days. The locks will be operated by Corps lock masters, Hawkins said.
“We really want to accommodate events on the river, and we really want to grow activities on the river as well,” Hemmes said.
The Corps is offering ARDC and its Monongahela River counterpart the flexibility to make changes and request different lock operation dates about a month ahead of time.
“That’s more latitude than expected. We really thought we were going to have to give them a whole year of dates in advance,” Hemmes said.
The Corps instead offered flexibility in hopes of moving the process of getting an agreement in place quickly, Hawkins said.
“Headquarters is working with us because they know they want something definitely in place before the next season,” she said.
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315, or [email protected].