Inland waterways groups urge President Obama to direct USACE to release water from Missouri River.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Arlington, Va., says two contractors named to remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, Ill., are expected to arrive on location Dec. 13 and Dec. 17, respectively. The Corps says it is “cautiously optimistic we can start blasting next week” after it meets with the contractors and reviews their blasting submittals.
“While this is welcome news, it only solves part of the problem to avoid an effective Mississippi River shutdown to commerce,” says Michael J. Toohey, President and CEO, Waterways Council Inc. (WCI). “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.”
WCI and the American Waterways Operators (AWO) say that although the Corps and the 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 say barges are currently restricted to a nine-foot draft and drafts are expected to be curtailed further as the 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,” Tom Allegretti, AWO president and CEO, says. “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. 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.”
AWO and WCI say the current situation will only go from bad to worse and claim that commercial traffic is already severely restricted, with the amount of cargo one barge can carry reduced by nearly one third and the number of barges one towboat can move from St. Louis to Cairo decreased by over half.
AWO and WCI add that the nation’s farmers, shippers, manufacturers and towboat operators await further action from President Obama to issue an emergency declaration to direct the Corps to release what they call “a modest amount of water” from Missouri River reservoirs.