By CHRIS WILSON
One of the biggest recreational attractions in Amory and Smithville, has been permanently done away because of terrorist threats in America.
Anyone who used to spend lazy summer evenings at the Tenn-Tom Waterway lock watching barges and pleasure craft lock through or feeding the fish and ducks, will have to find other ways to entertain themselves in the future.
According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile office, gates were erected blocking access to the locks and dams on the waterway because of the terrorist threats the U.S. has experienced following the Sept. 11 attack.
Janet Shelby of the Corps of Engineers said the Corps made the decision to prohibit close access to the locks to protect the structures. The Corps, being a branch of the U.S. Army, is operating under “Force Protection Conditions.”
At each level of force protection, different steps of protection must be taken.
The level is currently at “Bravo,” having earlier been at a more heightened level of “Bravo Plus.”
“It (the level) defines how we have to protect our locks and dams,” Shelby explained.
While there is currently a gate blocking vehicle traffic a couple hundred yards from the lock on the access road, a permanent chain link fence will be placed closer to the control building and parking lot before the end of the year. The fence will block public access on the lock apron area.
The decision to limit access at the locks was a federal decision, not one that merely affects locks in northeast Mississippi, Shelby explained.
The area will be closed to the public indefinitely. But Shelby said it could possibly change if the Force Protection level dropped to a lower level.
Currently, only vehicle traffic is prohibited. People on foot can cross the gated area and walk up to the lock area.
“We want the locks to be a part of the community and for people to use them for enjoyment,” Shelby added, noting that they are especially educational to children.
“We want it to be secure, but also realize that the community has an interest in using the lock,” Shelby explained. “And decisions such as these are reviewed all the time.”
A new effort initiated by the Corps is to offer tours of the lock and dam facilities for church or school groups if they schedule them in advance. There is also a permit for special events that could be granted that would give people access for certain reasons.
Anyone wishing to apply for a permit or to schedule a tour of the lock can call the Stan Perry, the park manager at the Bay Springs Corps of Engineers office, at 662-454-3481.