By Erin Smith
Many people enjoy boating and fishing on the Cape Fear River especially in the vicinity of the locks and dams. The locks and dams were built on the river at a time when commercial boat traffic plied the river transporting goods to towns upriver from Wilmington.
“They (the lock and dam system) were all authorized by the River and Harbor Act in 1910, 1934, and 1935,” said Elden Gatwood with the Us Army Corps of Engineers.
Gatwood said the lock and dam system served two main functions — commercial and recreational. Once the river traffic ceased in 1995, the system has fallen into a “caretaker status.”
The purpose of the meeting Wednesday night was to give Bladen County residents and government leaders a look at the disposition study and possible scenarios. According to Gatwood, the US Army Corp of Engineers has been studying the lock and dam system trying to determine the best way to move forward.
Gatwood said there are three possible scenarios for the future of the lock and dam system. The first is called “no action.” He said that does not mean a continuation of the status quo but rather no new funding will be invested in the project.
The second option is to reauthorize the system and removal from the river. The third option is to reauthorize the system and dispose of it to a government entity that is willing to take it over.
The Corps of Engineers held break out sessions where the public was allowed to talk with members of the Corps of Engineers to learn more about the lock and dam system itself and ask questions.
“All we are looking at is the removal or disposition of the system,” said Gatwood.
Following his presentation, everyone in attendance visited the different stations—operations, environmental, policy and other topics.
Carol Banaitis with the Corps of Engineers discussed the operations of the lock and dam system. She explained the system is not designed to hold back flood waters.
“It doesn’t help with a flood,” said Banaitis.
She explained the Corps of Engineers office in Wilmington directs the operators at the B. Everett Jordan dam near Raleigh when to release water from B. Everett Jordan lake into the Cape Fear River to prevent flooding downstream.
Jenny Owens with the Environmental section of the Corps of Engineers said the study will look at things like the fish populations, sedimentation and the impacts on humans.
“We will make a recommendation to US Congress. We have to look at the costs and benefits (of each option),” said Owens.
Jerry Graham of East Arcadia attended the meeting. He said, “Well from what I can see, I can’t see no one locally taking it over.”
Graham pondered whether the County would take it over. He stressed residents don’t want the system to go away.
“We are going to have to rally to the County Commissioners or to the State,” said Graham.
Maurice Rivenbark of Clarkton said he got his questions answered during the session. He said he wanted to know if residents have control of when water is released from B. Everett Jordan Dam to which the answer is yes.
Rivenbark said he wanted to know about funding and plan, as for fish ladders for the lock and dam system, and he said he was told it was in the works.
Wayne Edge of Elizabethtown said, “I hope we keep it.”
Elizabethtown resident Walter McDuffie said, “I think economics is what has brought us to the place we are (with the system).”