Two barge industry groups said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has named two contractors to remove rock pinacles in the Mississippi at Thebes, Ill., and that the agency could begin blasting next week.
But the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council, Inc. warned in a joint statement that water releases from the Missouri River are needed to keep navigation flowing.
The contract award is "welcome news, (but) it only solves part of the problem to avoid an effective Mississippi River shutdown to commerce. The release of sufficient water from Missouri River reservoirs during the time this rock pinnacle work takes place is essential to preserving a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River that will sustain commercial navigation and the movement of our nation’s critical commodities and exports,” said Michael J. Toohey, president and chief executive officer of the Waterways Council.
AWO and WCI said while the Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard have announced no plans to close the river, the restrictions on navigation as water levels continue to drop will effectively shut down the river to barge traffic around Christmas. The groups noted barges are currently restricted to a nine-foot draft and drafts are expected to be curtailed further as river levels fall.
“The mid-Mississippi River will be as good as closed later this month without the release of a modest amount of water from the Missouri River reservoirs,” said Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of the American Waterways Operators.
“The damage to U.S. agriculture is already being felt, as orders are curtailed and export projections plummet with the anticipated absence of cost-effective barge transportation," he said. "Businesses face potentially catastrophic losses, and workers face the grim prospect of holiday-season layoffs if navigation is not maintained. This is a high-risk situation for industries, communities, and states that rely on river transportation.” - Chris Dupin