Commission supports recreational use of locks and dams

Published 2:05 pm Friday, September 28, 2012

The Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam, formerly known as the Jones Bluff Lock and Dam, is on the Alabama River. The dam spans the border between Autauga County and Lowndes County and impounds R. E. “Bob” Woodruff Lake on the Alabama River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains the lock and dam.

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

The Lowndes County Commission voted unanimously Monday to support recreational use of locks and dams on the Alabama River by way of a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The action was taken after commissioners learned the Corps of Engineers would operate the locks, allowing passage through the Alabama River to commercial traffic only, by appointment only. According to memos, the plan will be implemented on Oct. 7, meaning after that date recreational traffic through locks and dams on the Alabama River will not be permitted.

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The information was first reported in The Selma-Times Journal.

The Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam is located on the Alabama River in the Benton, White Hall and Lowndesboro area.

“The county commission is requesting them (the Army Corps of Engineers) to try to possibly keep the locks open, because recreation is such a big part of the river down there, and we certainly need the recreation income,” Lowndes County Commissioner Dickson Farrior said. “They need to find a way if they could to let recreation traffic keep using those locks.”

According to memos from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, rivers with “limited commercial traffic, with no consistent pattern of lockage” will now allow service by appointment only. The Alabama River now falls under this category, the Times-Journal reported.

This is a plan that Jim Felder, executive director of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, told The Selma-Times Journal was, “a short-sighted, cost cutting exercise from Washington.” He said this plan is a death message to river traffic.

The Times-Journal also reported U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions followed through on his promise by sending a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, addressing concerns he and the rest of the Alabama Congressional delegation had about the Corps’ decision to limit access to locks and dams along the Alabama River.

Key points in the letter include addressing the Corps’ lack of public notice and public hearings, addressing the need for available public use of the waterways on a reasonable schedule, addressing the fact that the Corps’ initiative runs counter to the recent decision made through the U.S. Department of the Interior to recognize the 631-mile long Alabama Scenic River Trail as a National Water Trail, and expressing the opinion that the Corps should not proceed with implementing the initiative in this manner.

Ralph Pugh, who is owner St. Clair Grocery in Lowndesboro, spoke about the impact of the Corps’ plan.

He said people who live on the river have always had the freedom to go from one place to another. He said every year since 1974, up to 20 boats have taken a trip from Lowndesboro down to Mobile.

“That (the Corps’ plan) will stop that,” he said.

He said people have also ridden to Selma on the river on weekends.

“If we’re not allowed to do that — those of us who have bought property on the water itself — it kind of what we call ‘water locks’ us,” Pugh said. “We’re restricted to not be able to do anything but — I live three miles north of the dam — the only place I’ll be able to go is toward Montgomery. I can’t go to Selma.”

Pugh said the river is like a road and was a road before there were roads.

“When they cut that road off going to your house it kinds of makes your property devalued in my opinion,” he said.

Pugh said he did not know how it would impact his store, as it is not on the water. “We’re the only bait shop anywhere close to the river between Montgomery and Selma really,” he said.

Pugh said he understood everyone was assured in the past that the lock would not affect anybody being able to use the river.

“To come in here and just do it all of a sudden and run them out, you know, it’s just not fair in my opinion,” Pugh said.