Federal Dredge Fleet
This letter to the WJ is to voice concerns as stakeholders and workers on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom). After dramatic rains and runoff swept down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and triggered major flooding, the water left behind sandbars blocking the channel to navigation. This halted or limited the movement of all commercial barge traffic and recreational boats just below Aberdeen Lock at Mile 357.5.
As barge tonnage is the life blood that facilitates funding by congressional action, this flooding event cannot be overlooked. Jobs and the future viability of this waterway and other systems are at risk.
The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is a 234-mile-long waterway providing a navigation connection between the Tennessee River (and thus the Cumberland, Ohio, Illinois and Mississippi rivers) and the Gulf of Mexico via the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway and Mobile Bay. It passes through Mississippi and Alabama and was completed in 1984.
The Tenn-Tom was built to facilitate commercial navigation by providing safe, reliable, highly cost-effective, commercial barge movements of cargo. This has in effect been cut off and tonnage has been cut in half or more; along some areas on the Tenn-Tom, commercial barge trafic has stopped. This total devastation to a navigational waterway cannot happen again. Questions must be raised and solutions must be found. Congress must take long-term action, not just with emergency funding. Jobs and companies along our waterways must have a reliable working system.
The concept of a “shared federal dredging fleet,” with medium to small dredges operated between two or three Corps districts must be revived by Congress. The Tenn-Tom and other navigable waterways must not be beholden to only private dredging operations. The Corps must have immediate access to a dedicated dredge fleet on hand to open and maintain ports without delays.