Barges delayed as Corps closes Mississippi River for river bank repairs
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2014 - With bumper crops being harvested and icy winter weather closing in on the upper Mississippi River system, growers and barge operators are focused on moving products up and down our nation's waterways as quickly as possible. But the U.S. Corps of Engineers threw a monkey wrench into those plans on Friday, closing a three-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Memphis, Tennessee and Greenville, Mississippi to reinforce a flood-damaged river bank with concrete mats called revetments.
“With little proper notice to operators and shippers, the Corps' work performed at this time has impeded transportation on the nation's busiest waterways during the most critical part of this record harvest season,” noted the Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) in a statement.
The Corps said they need to do the repair work while river levels are low, as they typically are in the fall and winter. But the timing - while fall harvest is still underway - could not have been worse for farmers, exporters and barge operators who said they lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of the delays.
Late Friday, the National Corn Growers Association urged the Army Corps to delay its planned mat-laying work along the Mississippi River.
“This comes at a terrible time for U.S. corn farmers,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling. “We produced a record crop in 2014, much of which will be transported along the Mississippi River. It is imperative that barge traffic not be impeded, and as much grain as possible is transported before winter.”
Responding to industry concerns, the Corps committed to clear the long line of waiting towboats and was expected to make a final decision about continuing or postponing their work sometime this weekend.
Maj. Gen. Michael Wehr, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, was on site Sunday and said, “We are committed to keeping the river open each day until the queue of barges passes the restricted area. If for some reason the queue has not cleared by daylight, we will postpone beginning our revetment work until all of the vessels are through this section of the river,” according to a post on the Corps' Facebook page.
The Corps and Coast Guard are also re-buoying the three mile section of river to help widen the channel. The agency reported that a northbound 24 barge test tow successfully passed through the widened river section, and “we understand the urgency to quickly open for larger tows,” the Corps said in their release.
“This will help speed the clearing of the daily queue as limited size northbound barges can pass the work area during daylight hours. Work is also proceeding well in the narrowest reach of the restricted area and fewer restrictions may result as early as Monday, November 17th. At that time, the sinking unit will move to a wider section of Fair Landing (Arkansas).”
The Corps also pledged to continue to “dialogue with industry representatives” and said that “future decisions will be based on the needs of commerce and river conditions so that river traffic will experience limited delays.
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