The Journey

The Story of Returning Upper Allegheny Locks to Operations for Recreational Boating

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The fall of 2010 brought the “permanent” closings of AR Locks 8 and 9, and was followed two years later with the “permanent”
closings of AR Locks 6 and 7 to recreational boat traffic.  Along with the change in operations status of these locks, came the inevitable economic impact. In dining dollars alone, Armstrong County saw a $400,000 loss to area restaurants.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was able to commit a small amount of money in 2013 & 2014 to open AR Locks 6 and 7
for special events, but the return to the summers of weekend operations at all four locks looked rather bleak.

In the summer of 2012, a group of local business people, many of them boaters, convened to talk about strategies that
might be available to reopen the locks for summer recreational boating.  From there, a dormant non-profit organization
was re-energized as Allegheny River Development Corporation (ARDC), and the journey began.

Initially believing that ARDC could lease and staff the locks for summer recreational boating, a plan to do just that,
was submitted to USACE.  Within a matter of months, the harsh reality became apparent.  The cost of insuring,
much less operating the project was exorbitant!  The Board of Directors returned to the drawing board.

In the spring of 2013, ARDC learned of a federally approved program called “Contributed Funds”, authorized by Congress,
with the purpose of permitting non-profit organizations and businesses to contribute funds for the operation of unfunded
federal projects.  The program required that the funds raised be passed through a governmental entity and then paid to the
federal project’s original operating organization. ARDC secured Armstrong County to serve as the pass through fiduciary
entity, as all four locks lie within the county.  As in any federal project, there was a jungle of requirements, paperwork,
legal maneuvering and patience in working through the bureaucracy.  ARDC not only had to negotiate an agreement with
USACE, we had to get PERMISSION to negotiate with USACE!  Receiving permission to negotiate was an arduous process that
ultimately took nearly a year to complete.  It required Armstrong County to agree to appear as though they were
the source of the funds, when, in fact, ARDC is completely responsible for all funding of lock operations.  

The request for permission to negotiate wound its way from USACE’s Pittsburgh District offices to the Division offices in
Cincinnati. Once the project was approved at the Division offices, the project was then sent on the USACE Headquarters
in Washington, DC.  Approval was needed, not only at Headquarters, but from Congress and the General Accounting Office!
Finally, in late August of 2014, ARDC received permission to negotiate for the operation of these locks.  Along the way,
our project was joined by a similar project in West Virginia.  The Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA)
has two closed locks that have caused significant economic issues and the respective Boards of Directors
deemed that joining forces would only be a benefit for both.

Negotiations for lock operations began in October of 2014.  ARDC’s liaison at USACE worked diligently to tie in Division
and Headquarters personnel to the negotiations, effectively working to shorten the bureaucratic time lines.
This project for lock operation is the first of its kind in the nation, and the process was completed in time for
summer recreational boating in 2015.

Of course, the Memorandum of Agreement for Lock Operations and the accompanying “Work Plan” is just the legal side of
the equation.  Of primary importance is ARDC’s ability to fund the lock operations.  The cost of hour lock operation
comes in at $93.50 per hour.  In 2014 ARCD secured a one-time $120,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was been an enormous advantage toward our $160,000 budget for 2015 lock operations. ARDC is still responsible for any grant  match for any operations grant that we obtain for the ongoing funding for each
operations year within the 5 year agreement with USACE.

To that end, ARDC’s Board of Directors is in an ongoing fundraising mode to insure that this project continues to move forward. Paramount is the long term economic growth and stability of the Upper Allegheny River, in Armstrong County.
Please support this effort with your membership.  See our "Joining and Supporting ARDC" page for additional information.
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