KITTANNING – After a rocky 2019 in which a promise of funding never materialized, officials with the Allegheny River Development Corp. got a boost last week from Armstrong County to help keep the river locks open for boaters this year.
At their Feb. 6 meeting, Armstrong County Commissioners Jason Renshaw and Pat Fabian presented the corporation with a $15,000 check from the county’s Marcellus Shale Legacy Funds for 2020 lock operations.
ARDC president Brian Szep, along with board members Donald Delaney and Lynda Pozzuto, were on hand to accept the funding.
Afterwards, Szep explained that after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closed the upper locks on the Allegheny River, the ARDC was formed and has been funding the lock operations since 2015.
“Today, we pay for all lock operations for locks 6 through 9 and partial extended hours for locks 5 and 6,” he said. “ARDC is also engaged with local, state and federal government officials to develop alternatives to reduce the amount of private funding by restoring the locks to a greater level of service.”
Szep said the organization took a step back in 2019.
“ARDC had signed documentation provided by our paid lobbyist Joe Kuklis at Wellington Strategies that we would be receiving grant money to cover our 2019 lock expenses,” he explained. “Unfortunately, we found out in early August that we were being defrauded along with several other organizations in our area. No funding would be forthcoming.”
Szep said that up until that point, the group had been funding the lock operations with its reserves which were built up over many years of fundraising.
“However, the reserves were gone and we had to significantly reduce lock operations for the remainder of the 2019 season,” he said.
With a new year, Szep said the group has been hard at work to secure funding for the 2020 lock season. Total costs are estimated at more than $160,000.
“The Armstrong County Board of Commissioners have been very supportive,” Szep said of the grant awarded last week. “The funds awarded will be used to directly fund lock operations.”
Szep said the group has also been working with state Sen. Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) and state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Ford City) and “we anticipate additional assistance from the state to be forthcoming,” he said.
He also noted that ARDC is working on a number of other fundraising ventures.
“A membership driven organization, ARDC has been preparing its 2020 membership drive,” Szep said. “We offer both Boater Memberships ($25) as well as non-boater Associate Memberships ($20) and Business Memberships for those that want to support our efforts. Previous members should soon be receiving their renewal notices shortly. Additional opportunities to sign up will be provided at various events and of course we offer membership on our website at www.alleghenyriverdevelopment.org.
“We are hoping for strong participation this year,” he continued. “Membership is important not just because of the funds raised but also because of the recognition that a strong membership brings as we work with the different levels of government.”
ARDC will also be holding its Lock Kickoff Fundraiser event on March 7 at Futules’ Harmar House in Harmarville. The event will include dinner, live music, Chinese auctions, raffles, memberships and more. Tickets are required in advance and are available online at Eventbrite. A summer event is also in early planning stages.
Szep said the summer lock schedule would not be announced until a later date after additional funding is secured.