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Corps Keeps Barge Traffic Moving on Mississippi

posted on January 11, 2013

A key government report Friday revealed the global balance of trade tipped in favor of foreign nations in November as a surge in imports outpaced modest growth in exports.

According to the Commerce Department, the U.S. trade deficit grew more than 15 percent in November to $48.7 billion… its highest level in seven months. 

Imports rose nearly 4 percent to $231 billion, led by record shipments of cell phones and other electronics.  

Exports also increased, but only 1 percent to $182 billion. And shipments to Europe fell 1.3 percent, further evidence of the prolonged debt crisis that has gripped the region.

And America’s trade deficit with China -- the largest with of any single country -- declined nearly 2 percent in November.  Nevertheless, the trade gap with China is still on pace to set a new annual record in 2012.

Agricultural exports, of course, occupy a bright spot in America’s mostly gloomy trade picture. Before the goods can be shipped overseas, however, they have to make their way to coastal ports.  Sixty percent of U.S. grain exports travel a portion of the journey on the Mississippi River.  And with the river trickling at historic lows, officials are going to great lengths to keep the Mighty Mississippi – and the commerce it supports – flowing.

Two members of Illinois’ Congressional delegation returned to the “Land of Lincoln” this week hoping to improve navigation on the drought-stricken Mississippi River. 

Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Bill Enyart met with officials from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard and inspected operations removing rock pinnacles from the beleaguered waterway near Thebes, Illinois. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D – Illinois:  “I know this is a great matter of interest for all of us in the region.  I can guarantee from conversations I’ve had at the highest levels of the White House, the president is on this case.”

Hazardous rock formations in the Mississippi threaten to bring barge traffic to a halt 150 miles south of St. Louis.

Since most tugboats have a minimum draft of 9 feet, operators have been forced to lighten their cargoes and reduce the number of barges in a tow in order to navigate shallower, more treacherous channels

Contractors working with the Corps began blasting in mid-December, hoping to deepen the channel on nearly six miles of the river.

Major General John Peabody, Army Corp of Engineers:  “The bottom line is that we have made excellent progress with the rock removal from the contractors.  290 yards total moved to date and we are projecting that we will lower the river bottom in the channel by approximately 2 feet by the end of this week.”

 As the worst drought in half-a century intensified last summer, officials became concerned over the impact on the waterway that carries the majority of America’s grain exports.   

Senator Durbin and others called for demolition and dredging originally scheduled for February to begin immediately. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D – Illinois:  “This is nothing short of a miracle, to have contractors at work destroying these rock pinnacle obstructions and widening this river in record time.”

 With increased depth in the channel and a favorable weather outlook, further shipping restrictions on the Mississippi are not expected before the end of January. 

Scott Noble, Senior Vice President Ingram Barge Company:  “But clearly it’s had a significant impact here.  We’ve had shippers that have elected to curtail their shipping because they know with reduced drafts it has an impact on costs to them.”

Officials also are increasing flows on Mississippi River tributaries in hopes aiding navigation.  Last month, the Corp of Engineers began releasing water from Carlyle Lake on the Kaskaskia River near St. Louis. 

To date, however, the Corps has refused requests to release more water upstream on the Missouri River, a decision that likely will be tested if Mississippi channels fall below 9 feet. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D – Illinois:  “The Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, all the federal agencies are focused on keeping this river open for traffic because we know how critical it is to the area economy and the national economy.”

 Next week, Market to Market will take you onboard the Dredge Hurley, and learn what it takes to keep commerce flowing on the currently “not-so-Mighty Mississippi.” 

Tags: Army Corps barge Bill Enyart contractors Mississippi Rock Senator Dick Durbin shipping Thebes working