Historical Highlights

.. cavation of 50 feet along the entire reach of the canal. The dirt removed from the Cut was placed in nearby valleys. These spoil disposal areas were carefully contoured and landscaped in a manner that precluded one of the most potentially serious environmental problems associated with the waterway construction. Construction of the waterway also involved the relocation or replacement of 8 railroad bridges and 14 highway bridges.

The States of Alabama and Mississippi were responsible for building the highway bridges, which cost $155 million. Above is a railroad relocation showing a massive earth fill that had to be built to provide uninterrupted rail service and later was removed when the bridge was completed. Special programs were implemented during construction to help increase regional economic benefits. The waterway region was one of the most economically depressed sections of the nation at that time. Moreover, many of these counties are rural and some have majority populations of minorities.

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Many of the waterway residents had no working experience or skills in heavy construction crafts. Some unprecedented measures were undertaken to help insure that the lives of these economically deprived people were improved by the waterway’s construction. For example, a local hiring preference clause was included in each construction contract that required the contractor to attempt to hire as much of his work force as possible from within a 50-mile radius of the waterway. A very progressive minority hiring program was instituted that included employment goals for each construction craft. A separate program with specific goals was also established for female workers.

To meet these ambitious objectives, intensive job training efforts were implemented, including a unique worker-trainee program that required the close cooperation of the affected trade unions, the contractors and the Corps of Engineers. These social programs were very successful. Construction of the waterway required 25 million man-hours of labor. About 85 percent of these workers came from the waterway corridor. At the end of construction, the work force included 33 percent minorities and nearly 5 percent female workers.

Also, nearly $450 million of work was subcontracted to minority firms. Because of these successes, the Carter Administration selected the Tenn-Tom as a national demonstration project of how to maximize local economic impacts of a large public works project built in a rural area. These programs not only accomplished socio-economic objectives they also precluded the typical “boon and bust” conditions generally experienced when large projects are built in sparsely populated areas that do not have the infrastructure or services to support a large influx of workers. Construction was completed on December 12,1984 exactly 12 years after it began. The total cost was $l.992 billion, including non-federal costs. The waterway will have a physical life of 100 years or more and an assumed economic life of 50 years.

This investment will return economic benefits to many generations to come. DESCRIPTION The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is a connecting link between established water transportation routes that serve shippers and producers in the South and the Midwest as well as deep water ports along the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This unique feature has already benefitted commercial interests in 16 states since it opened for business in 1985. The 234 – mile waterway begins at its northern end at Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River, flows through northeast Mississippi and west Alabama, and finally connecting with the established Warrior-Tombigbee navigation system at Demopolis, Alabama. From there, commerce travels northward as far as Port Birmingham, Alabama or south to Mobile, Alabama, or other destinations along the Gulf coast. The main features of Tenn-Tom are 10 locks and dams and a 29-mile man-made canal, one of the largest earth moving projects in history.

The 10 locks raise or lower barges and boats a total of 341 feet, the difference in elevation between the two ends of the waterway. There are some 40 recreation areas that provide easy access to nearly 44,000 acres of water – related sports and other activities. In addition, marinas are located along the Tenn-Tom and connecting waterways to meet the needs of local as well as transient boaters. Over 110,000 acres of land were acquired for the construction and operation of the project. Some of these lands are available for public hunting. Another 88,000 acres have been purchased and managed by the two state conservation agencies for wildlife habitat.

After 12 years of construction, the waterway was opened to commercial traffic in January 1985. Seventeen public ports and terminals are strategically located along the waterway to serve shippers needs. The following are brief descriptions of the key features of the Tenn-Tom: THE DIVIDED CUT Ten years of work and a cost of nearly $500 million were needed to excavate a canal through the divide that separates the watersheds of the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers, the deepest cut is 175 feet and the average depth of excavation along the entire 29-mile reach is 25 feet. While the breadth of the cut at the top of the natural terrain is nearly one- half mile wide, the canal itself is 280 feet wide and 12 feet deep. The 150 million cubic yards of earth removed (nearly one and one-half times that excavated in building the Suez Canal) were carefully deposited and landscaped in the valleys along the canal. This successful disposal of so much excavated soil solved one of the most potentially serious environmental problems confronting the construction of the waterway.

WHITTEN LOCK AND DAM Whitten Lock and Dam, located in Tishomingo County near Belmont, Mississippi, is the northernmost lock on the Tenn-Tom. The Lock raises and lowers barges and pleasure boats 84 feet, the difference in the elevation levels of the water above and below the dam. This is the fourth highest single lift lock in the nation. The dam forms a 6600 – acre lake that joins the so called Divide Cut canal, and ultimately connecting the Tenn-Tom with the Tennessee River. The structure, named in honor of Jamie Whitten, a former Congressman from Mississippi who served over 50 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, cost $75 million.

G.V. “SONNY” MONTGOMERY LOCK Montgomery Lock is located in northern Itawamba County, Mississippi and named after a former U.S. Representative from Mississippi. The lock has a lift of 30 feet and cost $47 million. JOHN RANKIN LOCK This lock is one of five such structures that makeup the so called Chain of Lakes segment of the waterway. These locks form relatively small lakes (most less than 1000 acres in size) to help minimize environmental impacts. A levee along the western side of these impoundments preserved the upper reach of the Tombigbee River by preventing its inundation and destruction.

Rankin Lock has a lift of 30 feet and is located in Itawamba County, Mississippi. It is named in honor of former Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi, one of the waterway’s earliest champions in the Congress. FULTON LOCK Named for the nearby Town of Fulton, Mississippi, the lock has a lift of 25 feet. Its lake is the largest in the Chain of Lakes section at 1643 acres and is the setting for the Whitten Historical Center, a major attraction of the waterway. GLOVER WILKINS LOCK Wilkins Lock has a lift of 25 feet and cost $34 million. It is located in northern Monroe County near Smithville, Mississippi.

The Lock is named after the long time administrator of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Authority, who was instrumental in making the waterway a reality. AMORY LOCK Named after the nearby Town of Amory, the lock is the southern most facility in the Chain of Lakes section of Tenn-Tom with a lift of 30 feet. The 914 – acre lake caused by the lock was the site in December 1984 where the last remaining section of the navigation channel was removed. This removal, after 12 years of construction, allowed the “mixing” of waters from the two river systems and unimpeded commerce through the waterway. ABERDEEN LAKE The 27-foot lift lock is located in its namesake of Aberdeen, MS.

The dam forms a 13.5-mile long lake covering over 4,000 acres costing roughly $43 million. This and the following three locks and dams make up the so called River Section where the waterway generally follows the course of the Tombigbee River. JOHN C. STENNIS LOCK AND DAM This structure was relocated about four miles from its original site to prevent the flooding and loss of Plymouth Bluff, the site of an early settlement and a unique geological formation. One of the waterway’s two environmental centers is located here. The center, operated by the Mississippi University of Women, offers unique educational opportunities in the earth sciences and is available to the general public.

The 27-foot lift lock and dam is located in Lowndes County, Mississippi near Columbus and is named in honor of one of Mississippi’s greatest leaders of this century, former U.S. Senator John C. Stennis. Columbus Lake is the largest of the ten impoundments making up the Tenn-Tom, some 23 miles long and over 8900 acres in size. TOM BEVILL LOCK AND DAM Bevill Lock and Dam are located in Pickens County, Al near the Town of Pickensville. The lock has a lift of 27 feet and the dam impounds the 8300 – acre Aliceville Lake.

The project cost $45 million. It is named in honor of former Alabama Congressman Tom Bevill. Mr. Bevill chaired the congressional committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that approved the funding for the Tenn-Tom during its construction.

Here is located one of the waterway’s most impressive and recognizable sights, the Tom Bevill Visitors Center. This replica of a southern antebellum plantation home sits on the waterway near the MV. Montgomery, a retired paddle wheel river work boat. Both are open to the public. HOWELL HEFLIN LOCK AND DAM The Heflin Lock and Dam is the southern most structure on the Tenn-Tom. From here, commercial and recreation vessels reach the connecting Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway some 53 miles away via an improved Tombigbee River and the impoundment created by the Demopolis Lock and Dam. From Demopolis, it is 215 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

The lock has a lift of 36 feet, the second highest on the Tenn – Tom. It is located in Greene County near the Town of Gainesville, Al. Its impoundment, Gainesville Lake, is 40 miles long and covers 6,400 acres. The lock and dam is named in honor of former U.S. Senator, Howell Heflin, of Alabama.

COMMERCE AND TRADE The Tenn-Tom Waterway has proven to be an important new component of the Nation’s transportation system. It has helped reduce transportation costs for manufacturers and producers in as many as 14 states. COMMERCE Commercial traffic has steadily grown each year since the waterway opened in 1985. About 10 million tons are shipped each year. The principal commodities in terms of tonnage are shown below.

A RELIABLE TRANSPORT ROUTE The Tenn-Tom saved companies $millions in 1988 when a summer drought closed the Mississippi River to barge traffic. Unaffected by low water conditions, the waterway proved to be a viable alternative route to the Mississippi and kept plants in the Ohio Valley and Midwestern States supplied with essential raw materials needed for continued operation for nearly two months. RAIL RATES DECLINE Rail costs for some shippers decreased by as much as 15 to 25 percent when the Tenn-Tom first opened. The availability of an alternative mode continues to help keep rail and truck shipping costs in check. INTERNATIONAL TRADE The Tennessee-Tombigbee is strategically positioned to serve increased trade with Latin America and other foreign markets. About 2 million tons of commerce is now exported each year via the Tenn-Tom. Port facilities throughout the waterway corridor offer a wide range of intermodal services to companies involved in international trade. Deep-water ports along the Gulf can also be reached by the Tenn-Tom.


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