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Chickamauga Fix: Hope for the future of Knoxville navigation?

Due to a poor choice in concrete mixing in 1940, TVA's Chickmauga Dam has been in bad shape and getting worse for the last 20 years, especially concerning its locks. It might be tempting to think of the Chickamauga Dam story as a Chattanooga-area story, because that's where the dam is located. Most Knoxvillians have never even seen Chickamauga Dam, the third dam downstream from Knoxville, after Fort Loudoun and Watts Bar.

But if Chickamauga Dam's locks were to be locked up forever, it might affect Knoxville's economy more than Chattanooga's. For the first time in history, Knoxville would be cut off from the waterways of the world. Closing Chickamauga's locks would mean an end to most of the barge traffic that comes through town. Though that's not nearly as big as truck and rail traffic, it would be something we'd feel.  Several commodities that arrive by barge, like asphalt, might become more expensive. Producers of commodities that ship out by barge, like zinc, could suffer.  

We wrote about the subject in a cover story back in '97.

At the time, TVA estimated the damn's locks would last only until 2005. Fortunately, that appears to have been a conservative worst-case scenario. And back then, some in the industry were predicting the federal government would not bother with the multi-million expense of fixing it, and it would just be sealed off.

But Senator Lamar Alexander's on the case, and released this statement today:

Senate Vote Scheduled for Bill that Includes Alexander's Chickamauga Lock Fix
Alexander says rebuilding lock would allow 6.7 million tons of cargo to move through, improve use of Tennessee waterways and highway system
"Fixing Chickamauga Lock is essential to creating good jobs for Tennesseans in a competitive world, and this legislation would accomplish that goal by making such critical infrastructure a priority." - Lamar Alexander
CHATTANOOGA, May 1 - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that the week of May 6, the Senate is scheduled to vote on the Water Resources Development Act, which includes parts of Alexander's previously introduced American Waterworks Act that provides a path for fixing Chickamauga Lock.
"Fixing Chickamauga Lock is essential to creating good jobs for Tennesseans in a competitive world, and this legislation would accomplish that goal by making such critical infrastructure a priority," Alexander said. "We can allow 6.7 million tons of cargo to move through the lock, and take 100,000 heavy trucks off of Interstate 75 in the process - improving the use of both our waterways and highway system. All we need to do is make sure Chickamauga Lock gets the crucial support its commercial users agree that it needs."
Currently, Chickamauga Lock is composed of aging and severely deteriorating concrete. Infrastructure projects like rebuilding Chickamauga Lock are funded by the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, which draws on fees that commercial users report and pay themselves.
The legislation would prioritize funding for Chickamauga Lock in two ways. It would remove the requirement that Inland Waterways Trust Fund money go toward Olmsted Lock, an Ohio River project that Alexander said has "soaked up almost 90 percent of fund revenues." It would also restate a capital development plan that outlines priorities for the fund.

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