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AISI calls for action on Mississippi shipping crisis

Keywords: Tags  Mississippi River shipping, American Iron and Steel Institute, Thomas Harkin, Roy Blunt, Aaron Schock, Mike Petersen, Army Corps of Engineers, Nick Nichols St. Louis Port Authority

CHICAGO — Clearing obstacles on the Mississippi River is essential, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute, which on Friday called on members of Congress to back letters drafted by peer elected leaders urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hasten work.

"Removal of rock in this area is essential for normal barge traffic to continue within the expected extremely low water levels that will result from the scheduled water flow shutoff from the Missouri River," it said, urging members of Congress in an e-mail to sign on to letters from Sen. Thomas Harkin (D., Iowa), Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) and Rep. Aaron Schock (R., Ill.) asking the assistant secretary of the Army to direct the Army Corps to accelerate the process for removing rock pinnacles in the river at Grand Tower, Ill., and Thebes, Ill.

The movement of commodities, including scrap, steel, iron ore and metallurgical coal, has been constrained this year because low water levels have prevented barges from loading at full draft. Smaller, more frequent shipments mean higher costs for shippers, and the situation is expected to worsen next month.

Mike Petersen, spokesman for the Army Corps’ St. Louis District, told AMM that his agency has been dredging the middle section of the river from Hannibal, Mo., to Cairo, Ill., nonstop since July. "We have regular contact with industry," he said. "We are talking more often right now."

Peterson highlighted the complexity of the problem. "The rock pinnacles are at roughly negative-5 feet at the Thebes gauge," he said. "It’s a natural formation, and you cannot dredge that. We’ve tried grinding and we weren’t getting results. We (must) contract with someone to blast it. ... (The goal) is to remove the rock safely."

Nick Nichols, manager of the St. Louis Port Authority, agreed that the task won’t be easy. "Product is moving, but water is decreasing in the channel," he said. "The (Army) Corps of Engineers is dredging some more, but there is only so much they can do."

As the river recedes, authorities will continue to coordinate with industry to light-load the barges, Nichols said. Steel coils and scrap move through the docks in and around St. Louis.; some of those docks now have water too low to load barges, he added.

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