HED: Tenn-Tom authority believes name changes locked up (or, What’s in a dam name?)

By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority has requested that Congress rename six locks and dams on the waterway in honor of Mississippi and Alabama congressmen and a former authority director who were all instrumental in the creation and development of the waterway.

The request also asks that two locks adjacent to towns on the waterway be renamed for those towns.

Don Waldon, authority administrator, made the request during testimony before the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in late February.

“Last year the waterway was open for 10 years, and we just felt it was time to recognize some of the individuals who not only helped get it constructed and completed but also were instrumental in the development of it,” Waldon said. “And, at the risk of sounding facetious, it sounds better than just calling them locks A, B, C, D and E.”

Under the proposal, Gainesville Lock and Dam would be renamed for Alabama’s U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, who is retiring next year. Columbus Lock and Dam would be renamed Stennis Lock and Dam in honor of Mississippi’s longtime U.S. senator, John Stennis, who died last year.

Bay Springs Lock and Dam would be renamed Whitten Lock and Dam in honor of 1st District U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten of Mississippi, who also died last year.

Lock B would become Wilkins Lock after the late Glover Wilkins, longtime development authority director. Lock D would be renamed Rankin Lock after John Rankin, a U.S. representative from Tupelo who pushed for the waterway’s construction as early as 1923. Lock E would become Montgomery Lock after 3rd District U.S. Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery of Mississippi, who is retiring this year.

Lock A would become Amory Lock after the nearby city and Lock C would become Fulton Lock.

Aberdeen Lock and Dam would keep its name under the proposal, as would Bay Springs Lake, Aberdeen Lake, Columbus Lake and Gainesville Lake.

The changes aren’t likely to happen anytime soon. Waldon said the request likely would be attached to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorization bill that Congress is required to act on every two years. The Corps built and oversees the waterway and its authorization bill is up for renewal this year.

Language changing the names would be included in the authorization bill, but such bills usually don’t see final passage until late in the session, possibly in the late summer or fall.

“We’re confident that it will take place,” Waldon said. “It’s just a matter of when the authorization is enacted by Congress.”

Once the change is made, he said it would be permanent for those locks named after people.

“Once you name it after an individual, it’s never going to change,” he said.

But Fulton Lock and Amory Lock could, at some point in the future, be renamed to honor waterway supporters still serving in Congress.

“Congress used to have a rule that you had to be dead” to have a federal facility named for you, Waldon said. “Now they allow it after a congressman retires … Sen. (Thad) Cochran and Sen. (Trent) Lott (both of Mississippi) obviously played key roles. The locks named after towns could be named after them, if you chose to do so, so they could be recognized at the appropriate time.”

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