Operators, waterway managers and other stakeholders of the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway gathered in Orange Beach, Ala., May 10–12 for the 73rd annual meeting of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association (WTWA).
The waterway has come a long way since the founding of its association, said Horace Horn, vice president of external affairs at PowerSouth Energy and WTWA chairman, during his introductory remarks.
“We’ve been around a long time and accomplished a lot of good things,” Horn said. “In the past 74 years, we’ve seen the importance of the waterway’s contribution to the region’s economy. Shipping has increased. Looking back to 1951, we shipped 2.5 million tons. In 2021, we shipped 21 million tons. The freight on the waterway continues to increase, and we think we owe a lot of that growth to the work of this association and its leadership.”
As always, attendees heard reports from representatives of the Mobile Engineer District and Coast Guard Sector Mobile.
Representatives from both the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway (BWT) and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) looked at maintenance schedules for their respective waterways, while Nelson Sanchez, operations division chief for the Mobile District, gave an overview of trends on both waterways. The Tenn-Tom and the BWT come together just above Demopolis Lock and Dam, near Demopolis, Ala.
For the five-year period ending in 2021, the BWT averaged 2.8 billion ton miles annually, with 2019 the highpoint at 3.0 billion ton miles. The Tenn-Tom, on the other hand, has held steady at about 1.1 billion ton miles. In terms of short tons, the BWT saw a pretty significant drop during the first part of the COVD-19 pandemic, with 17.3 million short tons moved in 2019 and just 16 million in 2020. That number ticked up to 16.2 in 2021. Similarly, the Tenn-Tom recorded 7.0 million short tons in 2019, 6.4 million in 2020 and 6.2 million in 2021.
From a funding perspective, Sanchez said times are good for the Tenn-Tom, BWT and neighboring waterways.
“We have over $150 million just next year for this system,” Sanchez said. “The last two years, we’ve had $250 million worth of work on these waterways.”
Part of that funding will cover upcoming maintenance dredging on the BWT and the Tenn-Tom. Anthony Perkins, project manager for the BTW, said stakeholders can expect dredging to begin on the lower end of the waterway in July. Inland Dredging will send a cutterhead dredge to the Tenn-Tom first, with Berris Landing (Mile 72.5 on the BWT), Sunflower Bar (Mile 78), East Bassett’s (Mile 88) and Buena Vista Bar (Mile 108) all on the to-do list. That dredge may make an initial stop at Sunflower this month on the way to the Tenn-Tom.
Additionally, Perkins said he will oversee dredging on the Alabama River starting this month, with that waterway expected to be dredged to its authorized depth of 9 feet by the end of the year. Simultaneously, the Corps is studying installing fish passages at two locks on the Alabama River in order to help restore the Cahaba River’s ecosystem.
There are no lock closures planned for the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway this year, Perkins said. What’s more, the lock closures originally planned for the Tenn-Tom this year have been pushed back to 2024. Glover Wilkins and Thad Cochran locks on the Tenn-Tom will have maintenance closures in 2024, with Jamie Whitten on the Tenn-tom scheduled for 2025. Perkins said Demopolis Lock is next up on the BWT for a maintenance closure, with his team eyeing either 2025 or 2026, depending on when a contract is awarded.
Perkins also mentioned that the Corps’ Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC) is looking at ways to modify the upper approach to Coffeeville Lock due to crosscurrents pulling southbound tows toward the spillway.
Honoring Haun’s Service
During supper May 11, Wynne Fuller, president of the association, and Horn, who is in his first year as chairman of the association, provided the highlight of the meeting. Fuller and Horn teamed up to honor Charlie Haun, vice chairman of the board of Parker Tower Company, for his 28 years as WTWA chairman. Haun wrapped up his tenure as association chairman late last year.
Fuller and Horn presented Haun with a plaque that included a Weems & Plath boat clock, the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association logo and an inscription recognizing Haun’s time as chairman from 1994 until 2022.
“This was constructed from a piece of greenheart, which is the material we use on the timbers of our miter gates,” Fuller said. “It’s a historic element, probably on a lock 60 or more years. Charlie, you’ll notice it’s got a few cracks on it. It’s kind of distressed. I won’t say exactly what happened, but a Parker Towing boat might’ve had something to do with it.”
At that point, the crowd erupted in laughter.
Clutching the gift, Haun expressed his heartfelt thanks to waterway stakeholders.
“I just want to say thank you for letting me serve for 28 years,” Haun said. “I really enjoyed it. This is a great group. Thank you.”
Horn, vice president of external affairs at PowerSouth Energy, said he’s not sure if 28 years as chairman would qualify Haun for the Guinness Book of World Records, but it’s a remarkable record nonetheless.
“I’m honored to follow you,” Horn said, “and I can assure you that I will not break that record. Thank you for all your years of service. More importantly, thank you for your friendship.”
Caption for photo: Charlie Haun, center, was honored for his 28 years of service as chairman of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway Association during the association’s annual meeting. With him are Horace Horn, current chairman, and Wynne Fuller, president of the association. (Photo courtesy of WTWA)