Two Illinois congressmen inspected urgent efforts to clear Mississippi River bedrock that has crimped shipping on a crucial stretch of the waterway and said they're closely monitoring the situation.
Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Bill Enyart, both Democrats, were briefed Monday by the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard about the work being done to keep the Mississippi River navigable near Thebes in southern Illinois.
The Corps said last week it continues to project river stages will sustain the authorized nine-foot deep
commercial navigation channel between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill.
"The latest weather outlook indicates a
warming trend and the potential for rain next week. Additionally, the
removal of rock obstructions will enable an approximately 2-foot deeper
channel in the Thebes reach of the river by January 11," the Corps said. "Recent rains and
water releases from the Corps’ Carlyle Lake in Illinois have improved
the forecast for the Middle Mississippi River.
"Based on the
latest National Weather Service worst-case, 'no rain' forecasts, river
levels won’t reach -5 feet on the St. Louis gage until mid-January. At
that point, the rock formations at Thebes will be removed enough to
prevent a negative impact to the 9-foot-deep navigation channel," the agency said.
Two barge industry trade associations, the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI), said the statements from Durbin and the Corps "indicate that the Mississippi River will be able to sustain navigation through the end of January for towboats and barges at a 9-foot draft, as rock pinnacle removal work at Thebes, Illinois, has gone better than expected. The Corps has also released additional water from the Carlyle Lake Reservoir to augment water depth on the mid-Mississippi."
The associations said they would continue to seek assurances that all options to maintain navigation without further restrictions on draft remain on the table, noting certainty is particularly important, with long-range forecasts continuing to show water levels on the Mississippi dropping to historic lows.
"The Corps’ progress in removing rock formations and providing additional water releases is a positive development,” said Tom Allegretti, AWO’s president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “However, we are not out of the woods, and further assurances are needed to provide industry with certainty that is needed for sound business and transportation planning beyond January.”
“If a barge has a 14-day transit time from loading to the low points on the river, barge operators and their customers must make plans based on the forecasted water depth at the time of the barge’s arrival at the bottleneck,” added Michael Toohey, WCI's president and CEO. “That is why longer-term assurance that barges can reliably load to a 9-foot draft even beyond January is absolutely critical.” - Chris Dupin