TRVA 45th Annual Meeting a Success

The TRVA Holds its 45th Annual Meeting

Members and guests of the Tennessee River Valley Association (TRVA) and its Tennessee-Cumberland Waterways Council (TCWC), gathered in the beautiful Gatlinburg, Tennessee on October 17-18, 2011 for the TRVA 45th Annual Meeting.

Since 1967, the Tennessee River Valley Association has served as the only unbiased non-partisan unified voice for overall common sense water resource policies in the Tennessee and Cumberland River Valleys.  The membership of TRVA consists of towing companies, barge lines, port and terminal operators, municipal and industrial water users, and concerned citizens from across the region.

Economies throughout the Tennessee and Cumberland Valleys rely on the twin rivers system for low cost power generation, municipal & industrial water supply, efficient waterborne transportation, recreation, tourism, environmental preservation, and jobs.  The purpose of TRVA Annual Meetings is to bring together river users, representatives of related government agencies, and public officials in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere to discuss topics important to the region.

This year, two primary concerns were at the center of discussions related to the river systems and their impacts on the economies of the region.  1) Without an immediate resolution to its funding crisis, the insolvency of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) will likely result in the suspension of lock construction at both the Chickamauga Replacement, and the Kentucky Addition Projects on the Tennessee River.  2) As the population of the southeast grows, municipalities and regional water planning boards are increasingly identifying interbasin transfers of water from the Tennessee as a solution to accommodate their forecasted needs.

In a USACE Nashville District presentation, Tom Cayce, Chief of Programs and Project Planning briefed TRVA on Corps activities in the Nashville District including efforts related to reducing impacts of the flooding in the Spring of 2011, and progress at the Wolf Creek and Center Hill Dam Foundation Remediation Programs on the Cumberland River System.  Mr. Cayce also reported on the status of the Kentucky Lock Addition on the Tennessee River.  An IWTF cost-shared project that is not receiving funding, construction at Kentucky Lock is moving forward as result of $79.6 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.  ARRA funding will provide for excavation and construction of 9 of 61 monoliths that will move the project into FY13.  Without a resolution to the funding crisis of the IWTF, when ARRA funds are exhausted, the project will be mothballed.

Wayne Huddleston, Project Manager at the Chickamauga Lock Replacement updated TRVA on the status of efforts to replace the deteriorating existing lock near Chattanooga on the Tennessee River.  An Alkali Aggregate Reaction (concrete growth) has plagued the lock since its completion in 1940 and the likelihood of a catastrophic failure is increasing as a result of the misalignment of critical components of the structure.  Mr. Huddleston reported that onsite construction has virtually halted, and the only work currently ongoing is ARRA funded offsite fabrication of mitre gates, valves and guide walls that when completed will be stored at various Corps facilities on the Tennessee River until lock construction is complete.  An IWTF cost-shared project, funding for lock construction will not be available in the near future, as with the Kentucky Lock, without a solution to the IWTF funding crisis.

Dr. Larry Bray, Research Professor for the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee told conference attendees that members of the public do not fully appreciate the value of the 9-foot navigation channel that exists on the nations Inland Waterway System.  Referring to the United Launch Alliance production facility in Decatur, Alabama where Delta and Atlas Rockets, used to launch commercial and military payloads, are produced then shipped via the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers in route to launch sites in Florida and California, Bray said, “Americans who use cell phones or receive weather reports benefit from commercial navigation.”  Dr. Bray also pointed out the financial benefits to waterfront property owners who realize stable and increased values associated with navigable waterways, according to results of recent studies by the University of Tennessee.

In recent years, the Tennessee River has been targeted as a source of water for municipal and industrial users far removed from river’s basin.  Recent proposals by the State of Georgia have included moving the Georgia/Tennessee state line one mile to the north in an effort to gain riparian access to the waters of the Tennessee River, and offered the trading of water from the Tennessee for high-speed rail access between Atlanta and Chattanooga.  Areas in northwest Georgia are expected to exhaust their available water supply by as early as 2017 while Metro Atlanta will likely outgrow their supplies within 20 years.  The Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Manager of Water Supply, Gary Springston told TRVA that recent policies adopted by the TVA Board of Directors will require board approval of any potentially harmful interbasin transfer of water from the Tennessee of more than 1 million gallons per day.  Any withdrawals of water from the Tennessee resulting in an interbasin transfer must first meet the requirements of TVA’s 26a permitting process that includes home state approval of any withdrawal; NEPA review; notification and comments by all neighboring states that will be affected by the withdrawal and; an EIA or EIS based on need.  Mr. Springston stated, “Even if Georgia is successful in moving the state line to gain access to the Tennessee, they will still need to meet TVA 26a permitting requirements to be able to withdraw water from the Tennessee River.”

US Congressman Chuck Fleischmann (TN3), a freshman member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure offered the Keynote Address of the conference.  In his comments, primarily related to the Chickamauga Lock Project, Congressman Fleischmann indicated his efforts to secure funding for the Federal Project located in his district are ongoing.  “I have spoken with Chairman Mica (T&I Chairman), and I have spoken with Speaker Boehner about the need to fund this project” Fleischmann said.  Referring to the traditional methods used to direct funds to important projects in individual congressional districts and a member of the conservative freshman class in congress, Fleischmann said, “Earmarks are gone forever and they are not going to come back, the solution rests in fixing the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.”

In addition to the program that included informative guest speaker presentations, the TRVA Board and Membership elected Officers and Board members for 2012.  TRVA elected Ron Coles of W.R. Coles and Associates of Nashville, Tennessee as President and Mark Hommrich of Volunteer Barge & Transport of Brentwood, Tennessee as Board Chairman for 2012.

In 2012, the TRVA Board and Membership will continue to closely follow developments related to potentially harmful transfers of water out of the Tennessee River Basin.  It will also continue to encourage support, as it has since its inception, for the Inland Waterways Users Board’s Capitol Development Plan (CDP) as a solution to the funding crisis of the IWTF.  The CDP will not only insure the timely completion of projects on the Tennessee River, but will also provide a reliable funding source for future improvements on our nation’s critically important Inland Waterway Transportation System.