Pennsylvania lawmakers want staffing maintained for state’s lock and dam system

U.S. Reps. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA) and Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) joined a bipartisan, bicameral contingent of Pennsylvania lawmakers in calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to help preserve the maritime economy of the Allegheny River Valley by ensuring the area’s lock and dam system is properly staffed.

In a Nov. 17 letter they sent to USACE Commanding General Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, the lawmakers outlined their concerns for commercial and recreational access to the Allegheny River and Monongahela Rivers, which in August were designated as a new Marine Highway Route by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration. 

Specifically, Rep. Thompson, Rep. Reschenthaler, and their colleagues worry about the lack of staffing for the state’s lock and dam system along this route, according to their letter.

For instance, Locks 2 and 3 on the Allegheny River operate at levels of service (LOS) 2, which allows for two 10-hour daily shifts, while Locks 4 and 5 now operate at LOS 3, which allows for only one daily shift. Locks 6 through 9 all operate at LOS 6 by appointment only, the lowest level of service, they wrote. 

“Volunteers in some of these communities have stepped up to ensure proper staffing at lockages for recreational users, but this is not a long-term solution,” wrote the eight lawmakers, who also included U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA) and U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and John Joyce (R-PA).

The members pointed out that under these USACE service level metrics, the lockages face cuts to operational hours that could force many commercial operators to choose alternative means of transport, further decreasing the number of lockages and, subsequently, the LOS.

“Any cuts in service will impact commercial and recreational boaters’ ability to move up and down the Allegheny River and prevent future economic development throughout the corridor,” the lawmakers wrote. 

They requested that USACE ensure the service levels remain unchanged in the short term. “Pausing any action that would reduce access and stymie growth will help our region maintain a robust and diverse economy centered on our river system,” according to their letter.