Inland Waterways: Shutdown of Mississippi River Commerce Still Looms

Posted on: December 12th, 2012 by Stas

ARLINGTON, VA – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports today that two contractors named to remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, Illinois are en route and are expected to arrive on location on December 13 and 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. 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 & CEO, Waterways Council, Inc.

AWO and WCI stress that even though 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 note that 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,” said Tom Allegretti, President & CEO, 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. 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 emphasize that the current situation will only go from bad to worse and noted 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, already sharply increasing costs.

The groups also continue to stress the volume of commerce that moves on the Mississippi River and how consumers might eventually feel the impacts of a disruption, stating that $7 billion in key products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products remain at risk in December and January alone, including:

Nearly 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages in Mississippi River states;

  • Over 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion;
  • Over 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion;
  • 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth over $1.3 billion;
  • Over 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and,
  • 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.

AWO and WCI emphasized that the nation’s farmers, shippers, manufacturers and towboat operators await action from President Obama to issue an emergency declaration to direct the Corps to act and maintain that releasing a modest amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs over a short period of time will keep businesses open, exports and cargo moving, and Americans employed. A severe disruption of our nation’s waterborne transportation supply chain, however, will ripple through the economy and affect far more than just the nation’s heartland.

ABOUT AWO and WCI

 The American Waterways Operators is the national trade association representing the nation’s tugboat, towboat and barge industry which operates along the rivers, coasts, Great Lakes and harbors of the United States.  Barge transportation serves the nation as the safest, most environmentally friendly and most economical mode of freight transportation.  For more information about AWO, please visit www.americanwaterways.com.

Waterways Council, Inc. is the national public policy organization advocating a modern and well-maintained national system of ports and inland waterways.  Its members include shippers and receivers of bulk commodities, waterways carriers, ports, shipping associations, agriculture groups, organized labor, advocacy groups, and environmental and conservation organizations.  For more information on WCI, please visit www.waterwayscouncil.org.

 

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