Tenn-Tom Conference Set For August 11–13

It’s been nearly two years since stakeholders of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway last gathered for the annual Tenn-Tom Waterway Conference. The COVID-19 pandemic postponed the conference last year, and then inclement weather led to its cancelation.

But like so many of the nation’s waterways, commerce on the Tenn-Tom has motored on despite the pandemic, and waterway operators and stakeholders will gather August 11–13 for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Council’s 39th annual conference to both celebrate the waterway’s resilience and look to its future. 

The conference will be held at the Grand Hotel Marriott in Point Clear, Ala., across the bay from Mobile. The three-day event will begin with a golf tournament August 11 at Lakewood Golf Club’s Azalea course. Day one will conclude with an opening reception at the Grand.

Day two will feature an impressive lineup of elected officials who represent communities connected to the waterway. In the morning, a congressional panel discussion will include Robert Aderholt and Jerry Carl, both members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Alabama, and Trent Kelly, a congressman from Mississippi. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who is currently serving as chair of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority (TTWDA), will also address conference attendees.

Sign up for Waterway Journal's weekly newsletter.Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest inland marine news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Day two also will feature John Driscoll, director and CEO of the Alabama State Port Authority, the state agency that oversees development at the Port of Mobile.

Rob Spalding, a retired officer in the U.S. Air Force and an expert in U.S.-China relations, will speak on how China’s activities on a global level impact commerce in the United States.

“As many people know, China is investing in infrastructure around the globe through their Belt and Road Initiative, spending billions of dollars in undeveloped countries,” said Mitch Mays, administrator of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority. “This is an economic threat to the United States and will have an impact particularly on shipping and businesses that utilize our seaports and the inland waterway system.”

Also on day two, Michael Randle, owner and publisher of Southern Business & Development, will examine the economy in the South; NextMove Group’s Chad Chancellor will discuss the site selection process; and Tami Reist with Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourism Association will focus on tourism and economic development in the region.

The day will conclude with a reception, silent auction and dinner, to be held in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom. As in years past, the silent auction will benefit the Agnes Zaiontz Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Museum, named in honor of the longtime TTWDA staff member who helped start the museum.

“Mrs. Agnes would be tickled that people want to donate,” Mays said. “She cared deeply about the Tenn-Tom Waterway and especially the museum. It was her baby! We deeply miss Agnes. She was a staunch supporter of the Tenn-Tom and delighted in meeting and talking with the people and companies that used the Tenn-Tom. She’s been gone for two years now, but her presence is still with us every day at the office and museum.”

Mays said conference organizers are still accepting donated items for the silent auction.

Day three of the conference will offer presentations from both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. Mays said conference attendees will likely hear about both shoaling issues along the waterway that result from periods of high water and the appearance of Asian carp in the Tenn-Tom.

Presenters will include Justin Murphree and Anthony Perkins, operations project managers for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway, respectively. The Corps panel will also feature Nelson Sanchez, the new chief of operations for the Mobile Engineer District; Mobile District Commander Col. Jeremy Chapman and Nashville District Commander Lt. Col. Joe Sahl.

Capt. LaDonn Allen, commander of Coast Guard Sector Mobile, will round out the presentations from waterway managers. 

Day three will also feature Jason Burt, speaking on cyber threats facing the nation’s waterways, along with Jonathan Pote and Charles Wax, professors emeritus from Mississippi State University.

It’s a diverse agenda, representative of the wide range of stakeholders and activities that thrive on the waterway.

“One of the things that makes our conference interesting is the mix of attendees,” Mays said. “We will have federal and local elected officials, economic developers, tourism officials and business and industry attend our conference.

“We try to have presenters that will provide a value to every attendee,” he added. “The best value that the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterways Conference provides is networking.”

Registration for the three-day event remains open to the public, although the conference’s hotel block is full, Mays said.

“There are other hotels in close proximity to the Grand we are recommending,” he said. “We expect to have close to 200 attendees, if not a little over that.”

Registration details are available at