DELAYS REPLACING PENNSYLVANIA – WEST VIRGINIA LOCKS AND DAMS COULD COST TAXPAYERS & UTILITY CUSTOMERS $2 BILLION
BY STAS MARGARONIS
Utility customers adjoining the Pennsylvania-West Virginia lock and dam system could pay as much as $1 billion per year in higher rates if the system needs to be shut down for repairs in addition to the $1 billion cost overrun to U.S. taxpayers as a result of Congressional delays in funding vital repairs.
This is one of many transportation and energy hazards worsened by delays funding the $8 billion in vital repairs for locks and dams onU.S.inland waterways.
The worsening crisis is highlighted by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report projecting that closure of locks and dams between Pittsburgh and West Virginia could disrupt supplies of coal to river power plants and cost utility customers “as high as $1.0 billion annually” and directly impact 21 million customers.
The cost of finishing the locks and dams is projected to be $1.2 billion with only $1 million requested in the 2012 Fiscal Year budget.
In effect, the Pennsylvania–West Virginia repairs to the system have been brought to a halt by chronic anti-spending resistance in Congress. Delays in making the needed repairs for the Pennsylvania-West Virginia locks and dams have seen replacement costs go from $750 million to $1.7 billion.
The utility cost is cited in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report MEASURING THE IMPACT OF MONONGAHELA LOCK CLOSURES…, which says there could be a ripple effect to utility customers resulting in “increases across the United States from shutting down the Lower Monongahela River waterway traffic.”
“It took the highway bridge in Minnesota collapsing to convince the federal government to replace that bridge; I hope it won’t take a catastrophic failure of a lock or dam to convince people that we need to make a major investment in the inland waterway system,” says Debra Colbert, communications director for Waterways Council, Inc. based in Arlington, Virginia, representing waterway operators and shippers.
A fact sheet by the Waterways Council, Inc. describes how delays in spending are costing taxpayers’ money on the Pennsylvania to West Virginia system:
“The project is cost-shared 50/50 with the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. The original project cost was estimated at $750 million. The total project is now estimated to cost up to $1.7 billion. Approximately $502 million has been invested through FY 2011, leaving a balance of up to $1.2 billion to complete the project. In FY 2011, $9.3 million was allocated to the project. The FY 2012 budget request was only $1 million.”
Colbert says, “Many of the locks and dams were built during the 1930s and 1940s and have exceeded their 50-year economic design lives and now require recapitalization, just like other infrastructure on roads, bridges and railways. There is lock and dam project work worth $8 billion that could be done by American workers over the next two decades.”
Waterways Council, Inc. and the American Waterways Operators endorse legislation introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, along with 14 bi-partisan cosponsors known as “WAVE 4,” which would prioritize the completion of navigation projects across the entire system; improve the Corps of Engineers’ project management and processes to deliver projects on time and on budget; reform project cost allocations; deliver 25 modernization projects and $8 billion of job creation; recommend an affordable user fee funding mechanism to meet the system’s needs, and realize a sustainable annual appropriation of $380 million.
Unfortunately, with the political stalemate in Washington, Colbert is skeptical about action being taken by Congress in 2012 so that the earliest Congressional action may take place in 2013. She says the longer the delays, the higher the cost for replacement as well as higher the chances that a major shut down of locks and dams will cause a serious transportation and energy disruption somewhere along the Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi or Monongahela rivers.