News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on energy appropriations, said today that “Congress has done its job to move ahead promptly on replacing Chickamauga Lock, and it’s disappointing the Obama administration has failed to do its job” by not including funding for Chickamauga Lock in the president’s budget proposal.
In his first budget hearing as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development, Alexander asked why the president is proposing a $751 million cut, or about 14 percent below last year’s spending level, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in fiscal year 2016 while proposing major increases in spending in other parts of the federal budget. The hearing was on the fiscal year 2016 budget proposal for the Corps and for the Bureau of Reclamation.
“An important example of the administration’s failure to set priorities is in my home state of Tennessee: the lack of any funds in the president’s budget request to restart replacement of Chickamauga Lock,” Alexander said in his opening remarks. “Congress has done its job to move ahead promptly on replacing Chickamauga Lock, and it’s disappointing the Obama administration has failed to do its job. … This project is important not just to Chattanooga, but to all of East Tennessee because of the number of jobs affected.”
Witnesses at the hearing included Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for civil works; Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, chief of engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Estevan Lopez, commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation; and Jennifer Gimbel, principal deputy assistant secretary for Water and Science for the U.S. Department of Interior.
The senator’s full opening remarks appear below, as prepared:
Former U.S. Rep. Rep. Zach Wamp tells the Chattanooga Times-Free Press that his successor’s second term success hinges on solving the district’s biggest infrastructure puzzle — the Chickamauga lock.
In an interview, Wamp praised Fleischmann for making the 72-year-old lock “an important priority,” but said he hopes his successor “exerts more leadership” in maintaining the old lock and finishing a partially completed replacement.
“If you don’t,” Wamp said, “then the Congress is twiddling their thumbs while Rome burns.” Engineers, businessmen and politicians for years have considered the Chickamauga lock replacement the area’s most important federal project.
But Wamp — whose 25-year-old son unsuccessfully challenged Fleischmann in the GOP primary in August — sees conflicts between an ambitious plan to fix the lock advanced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and a political pledge Fleischmann and other congressional Republicans signed to keep taxes low.
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
CHATTANOOGA – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that he and a bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation, called the American Waterworks Act, to modernize America’s ports, locks, and dams, including Chickamauga Lock.
Alexander, along with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has been working with a bipartisan group of senators to address major shortfalls in U.S. port and waterway infrastructure, in preparation for the 2014 completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will provide the U.S. with more trade opportunities.
Alexander said that the legislation would do two things to help ensure construction of Chickamauga Lock, which is a high priority for the Army Corps of Engineers: First, it would free up funds in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to be used on priorities such as Chickamauga Lock by ending the requirement that trust fund revenues go to pay for Olmsted Lock on the Ohio River, a project that has been soaking up almost 90 percent of fund revenues. Second, Alexander said, it would nearly double the amount of money in the trust fund by doing exactly what the lock’s commercial users have requested–increasing the user fees they pay.
Democratic congressional candidate Dr. Mary Headrick says she would support a barge fuel tax increase to finance repair and construction at Chickamauga lock, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.
“The Chickamauga lock should be replaced,” she said in a statement. “Until replaced, it should be repaired and remain in operation. … I favor increasing the marine diesel fuel per gallon tax, as favored by barge operators.”
In doing so, the Maynardville, Tenn., Democrat and acute care physician defied her opponent, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who has rejected a barge tax increase from 20 cents to 29 cents per gallon of diesel fuel. But the freshman Republican has opposed tax increases of any kind, partially owing to a political pledge he signed.
Fleischmann’s opposition has also put him at odds with members of the barge industry who have expressed a willingness to pay more taxes if it translates to consistent maintenance and quicker replacement.
Funding has dried up on both fronts, and the lock continues to deteriorate as a chemical reaction weakens its bulky concrete frame. The structure allows barges to move through TVA’s dam system toward 318 miles of upstream Tennessee River water.