Tribune-Courier News Editor
GILBERTSVILLE – Federal funding could cause further delays in a project already behind its original schedule. The White House’s 2012 budget unveiled in February did not include funding for the 1,200 foot lock construction currently underway at Kentucky Dam. The project has been going in starts and stops on a federal funding yo-yo since the late 90s.
The project got a boost last March when the Army Corps of Engineers announced a $40.7 million contract which looked to create nearly 500 jobs over a 27-month construction plan. The funds came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly referred to as the stimulus. But the Corps’ overall budget for 2012 is about 15 percent below last year’s spending level.
Following announcement of the original contract, Thalle Construction Co., of North Carolina, representatives stated they would attempt to hire locally, as well as work with local suppliers and subcontractors. The jobs helped provide an economic boost through the recession.
According to information provided by project manager Don Getty, the project currently employs approximately 150-200 people and is about 45 percent complete. The earliest completion date for the Kentucky Lock Addition has been pushed to 2018 with sufficient funding. If funding is delayed, officials say, then the overall cost will increase due to inflation.
Construction of the new lock has been on hold for three years after beginning in 1998. Ironically, at a funding announcement in 2010, Steve Little, chairman of the Inland Waterways User Board, was critical of the projects stop and go status.
“If this project had been fully funded since its beginning, today we might be attending a dedication ceremony instead of a ground breaking,” Little said in March, 2010. “How many of us today would start construction of a home if we didn’t know we had the cash flow to complete it? That is the way our country, for too many years, has addressed these projects. We’re pretty good at starting projects as a nation; we’re not so good at finishing projects as a nation.”
Little said barge companies and others reliant on the industry make long-term capital investments and said national policy should reflect the same position.