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Shipping on Mississippi River in Jeopardy

posted on December 28, 2012

Dimming hopes for a compromise averting the fiscal cliff, pushed consumer confidence, this month, to its lowest level since August.

The Conference Board announced late this week its Consumer Confidence Index fell in December for the second consecutive month.   

Early data from the shopping mall reflected the pessimism.  MasterCard reports holiday sales of popular items, like electronics, clothing, and jewelry rose just 0.7 percent from last year, reflecting the worst year-over-year performance since 2008. 

But other sectors of the economy appear to be improving.  The average number of Americans applying for initial unemployment benefits over the past month fell to its lowest level in nearly 4 years. 

Sales of new homes increased in November at the fastest annual pace in 2 1/2 years.

And sales of previously occupied homes rose last month to their highest level in three years.

But one place where levels are definitely NOT on the rise is the Mississippi River, a vital commercial artery that carries 60 percent of the country’s grain for exports. 

Shipping on Mississippi River in Jeopardy

The Army Corps of Engineers latest weather and water forecast suggests that commerce on the Mississippi River could come to a halt as early as the first week in January. 

Despite heavy snow fall across the upper Midwest, river levels continue to fall faster than anticipated.  The latest readings at Thebes, Illinois indicate that by January 4th traffic will be limited to vessels that draft less than 8 feet of water.  Most towboats require a 9-foot draft and only a small number can operate at 8- or 7-foot drafts.   

In an effort to maintain shipping lanes on the Mississippi, the Army Corps of Engineers began work nearly two months ahead of schedule to widen the channel south of Saint Louis.  The work closes the channel to barge traffic from 6am to 10pm and is expected to take 30 days to complete.

In early December the Army Corp turned back an  effort made by lawmakers and representatives from shipping interests to release more water being held upstream on the Missouri River.  According to Michael  Toohey, President & CEO, Waterways Council, Inc. “We have been urging action all along and the time is now to release needed water or we will have run out of time on this national crisis,”

Shipping interests warn a closure ending the transportation of freight on the Mississippi could deal a staggering blow to a struggling U.S. economy.  At risk in December and January alone are 20,000 jobs and $7 billion in key commodities such as corn, grain, coal and petroleum. 

Tags: barge drought Mississippi River shipping