If you didn’t make it to any of the “ROCKIN ON THE MON! ™” concerts this past summer
you missed some amazing shows!!
The Monongahela Aquatorium riverfront concerts drew over 28,000 people to a wide variety
of entertainment. The venue is beautiful and relaxing, and the shows ranged from country to
oldies and even to an Elvis impersonator. The show goes on rain or shine and yes,
we had some shows with umbrellas and ponchos, but the spectators love it and are
already begging to know who will be here next summer!
So watch our site, www.monaquatorium.org or follow us on Facebook at Monongahela Aquatorium, and mark us on your
calendar for next summer! Try us by land or by sea and once you do, you’ll always come back!
There’s good news and bad news for two groups negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers to open locks to recreational boat traffic on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
The good news is they are leading the way for groups around the country who want to contribute funds to operate federal locks. The bad news? Because it’s never been done before, the process will likely be fraught with bureaucracy as the groups make their way through uncharted waters.
“What it really means to me is its going to take more time, which is something we just don’t have,” said Corps engineer Lenna Hawkins.
Hawkins serves as a liaison between her agency and groups like the Allegheny River Development Corporation, the Armstrong County nonprofit that has been working to get the locks opened since they were closed in 2012.
ARDC and a similar group in West Virginia have a chance to have the locks opened on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers next boating season.
ARDC estimates it can give $150,000 to cover lock operations on weekends, holidays and special events. The Upper Monongahela River Association in West Virginia plans to open locks on its river every other weekend for about $40,000 — funds it will get with help from counties in its region.
Federal budget cuts closed Armstrong County locks in Clinton, Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer in 2012. Two Upper Monongahela River locks near Morgantown suffered the same fate soon after. Both systems are open for commercial travel by appointment.
Both of the locked-out regions have experienced a drop in tourism and recreational business. Tourism analysis of the Pittsburgh region bears that out, according to ARDC President Linda Hemmes.
“The year locks closed, dining out dollars dropped by $400,000 in Armstrong County,” she said.
Likewise, the “Upper Mon” has felt the pain, said UMRA President Barry Pallay.
“Tournaments have been impaired. Boating has been impaired. It has harmed the number of passages and resulted in fishing tournaments and other events going elsewhere,” he said.
The Corps gave the two groups the go-ahead last month to use local funds for lock operations. They are waiting for a chance to negotiate with the Corps to determine how payments will be made. For instance, it’s not been determined whether the private groups will pay directly, or if the money will have to be funneled through a board like county government on its way to the Corps.
Because such an agreement has never been reached, working out the details may take longer than expected, Hawkins said.
“Breaking new ground means people will be more conservative and looking into what the ramifications are,” she said.
“Since this is unique, more time will be spent assuring it is done correctly because this may be used again across the country.”
While details are being worked out, ARDC’s focus remains on fundraising, boosted by recent news that state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, is trying to get a state transportation grant from PennDOT that would cover 75 percent of the cost of keeping the locks open next year.
If the agreement with the Corps can be worked out before next summer, locks will be opened as many times as the ARDC or UMRA can afford. Hemmes estimated it costs about $2,700 a day to operate the locks.
Hemmes said she has no doubt ARDC can raise enough funds with private contributions and membership drives to keep the locks open each weekend next season, even without the help of a state grant. She expects to pull donors from the 60-mile stretch of river between Pittsburgh and East Brady.
“My money’s on there being $150,000 in the pockets of business, boaters and industry that want these locks open and operational during the recreational boating season,” she said. “I think it’s going to require work, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable by any stretch.”
Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1315 or email@example.com.
By Julie Martin
A state grant to further transportation and economic development may pick up the bulk of the cost of operating Armstrong County locks on the Allegheny River next year.
State Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, has applied for $120,000 from PennDOT to support lock operations in Clinton, Kittanning, Mosgrove and Rimer in 2015.
While it is too early in the grant game to speculate about the odds of being funded, Pyle said one thing is certain: “We know from talking to PennDOT that this is the most unique application they’ve seen,” he said. “We’re going to cut new ground here.”
To him, the move makes sense because the grants are meant to promote economic development and ensure safe and reliable transportation.
“It’s our opinion, what the Allegheny River Development Corporation is doing fits into the newly created multi-modal fund,” Pyle said.
The ARDC for two years has been working with the federal government to allow a private agency to fund operation of the locks. With that permission granted, the group is working on details of how the payments will be made.
It’s continuing to look toward next year and paying for lock operations, even if the PennDOT grant doesn’t come through.
“It’s certainly not going to deter us from any more fundraising,” said ARDC President Linda Hemmes. “We’re diligently fundraising in the face of uncertainty.”
The longest journey for the Allegheny River Development Corp. is over. After two years of trying, the group successfully negotiated a sea of federal red tape and won approval that allows it to use private funds to pay for operation of the river locks in Armstrong County. It would be great to be able to say that the hard part is behind the ARDC. Unfortunately, we’re not certain that is the case.
Opening the locks will take money — an estimated $150,000 will have to be raised each year. Pontoon raffles and other small-time fundraisers are not going to get it done.
The ARDC is going to have to ramp up its fundraising efforts — specifically targeting business interests that can afford to throw more than $20 a pop into the donation pot. It may not be that hard a sell, given the clear economic impact opening the locks should have when boaters are able to venture into our area to spend their dollars.
But there are other problems to navigate even if fundraising is successful. Boaters who went through the locks this summer complained that the condition of the locks made the trip slow going. The federal government has to make a commitment to maintain the locks to keep trips on the Upper Allegheny attractive for boaters.
That, however, is a problem to be addressed later. Now the effort must be on developing a revenue stream that will be consistently available to keep the locks open from year to year. It won’t be easy, but neither was the journey that got us to this point.
Coal mining jobs have dropped around Cleveland, VA, but when residents looked around they realized they had some amazing assets, including the Clinch River which runs for a mile through the middle of town. Folks set about cleaning up the riverfront and their dedication to building for the future has attracted assistance from the Clinch River Valley Initiative (CRVI) and a new federal grant for community development. Rich Kirby reports on this local effort to focus on eco-tourism as an economic building block.