A Dam Scandal?

Badly needed repairs to the Chickamauga Lock, a potential bottleneck for Knoxville barge traffic, are not likely to be done soon. The money for the Chattanooga lock repairs has to come from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's $3 billion dam on the Ohio River is in front of the line.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is being criticized for putting the $3 billion authorization for the Olmsted Dam into the federal funding bill that re-opened the government. And Alexander's primary opponent, state Rep. Joe Carr, has an ad up this week criticizing the project. The ad says Alexander was doing a back-room deal while "conservatives" were trying to defund Obamacare.

The Kentucky dam, a pet project for McConnell, was authorized earlier by the House and Senate. Alexander's staff said it is funded by 50 percent of the trust fund and 50 percent from a federal appropriation. If the project had been halted and restarted, Alexander contends it would have cost another $160 million and the trust fund would have taken another hit and further delay the Chattanooga dam repairs. A bill has been introduced that would increase the federal percentage for Olmsted, thus saving some more money in the trust fund.

Once the $3 billion dam is completed, Chickamauga is believed to be next in line for funding.

The barge industry has supported raising barge fuel taxes from 20 to 29 cents to provide more money for dam and lock repairs, but U.S. House Republicans have been reluctant to "raise taxes."