More than a century in the making, the 234-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway was supposed to fulfill a dream of “orderly growth and prosperity” when it opened in 1985, snaking its way through the poor, rural Deep South. It hasn’t worked out that way. Delayed for decades by environmental concerns and detractors who called the project a boondoggle, the $2 billion shipping shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico — best known as the Tenn-Tom, or more derisively, the “big ditch” — has never come close to traffic projections used to sell it to the public, and poverty rates have increased in most of the counties it flows through in Mississippi and Alabama. There are pockets of relative prosperity where the manmade waterway connecting the Tennessee River from Pickwick Lake to the Black Warrior-Tombigbee River system near Demopolis has helped lure industry. Yet these days, someone fishing along its banks is about as likely to see retirees headed to the Florida Keys on their cabin cruiser as they are a tugboat pushing a string of barges. “It was the greatest thing that was going to happen. It was the thing. It was the hope,” body shop owner Walter Porter said. “Now it’s just… Read full this story
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