The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has backed away from earlier announced plans to all but close down the locks on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint waterway.
The Corps earlier announced that the locks would be available solely to commercial traffic, and then only by appointment. The Corps sent out a news release today announcing that the lock at Lake Walter F. George (Lake Eufaula), Lake Andrews and Lake Seminole would be open four days a week, for 10 hours each day.
All commercial traffic must still make an appointment for going through the locks, but they will be available to barge traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Recreational traffic will be allowed through during the hours locks are manned, subject to availability of lock operators.
The locks will be closed on federal holidays and when lock operators are away on vacation or sick leave, the release said.
The locks will be open Friday through Monday in the spring and summer and Monday through Thursday in the fall and winter.
"The new levels of service on each river system are based on historic usage patterns," said E. Patrick Robbins, public affairs officer for the Mobile District. "During the new operating hours the locks will be periodically operated to ensure machinery is properly functioning."
Roger Martin, executive director of the Chattahoohee RiverWarden, a nonprofit river advocacy group, welcomed the news, but he urged boaters not to be complacent.
"I believe this is the second chance," Martin said. "Either we use them this time or we will lose them in the future."
Columbus Councilor Red McDaniel, who for years has been pushing for a marina in Columbus, earlier had decried the lock closure as a death knell for the idea. Wednesday, he was more optimistic.
"I think this is going to help our cause," McDaniel said. "Maybe we can get it built after all."
Boaters wishing to contact the locks may call the following numbers:
Lake Seminole, 850-663-4692;
Lake Andrews, 229-723-3482;
Lake Walter F. George, 229-768-0145;
or Bill Smallwood, head of the ACF Rivers Project Office, at 334-232-4542.