commodity shippers and terminals along the Mississippi River
are preparing to move material by rail and truck instead of via
barge, despite the higher cost, as low water levels are
threatening to close the river to commercial navigation in less
than two weeks.
Shippers fear that river
transportation will slow or stop completely because the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers has maintained its annual practice of
scaling back water flow from the Gavins Point Dam on the upper
Missouri River above Sioux City, S.D.
"The Corps did reduce seasonal
flow," Sue Casseau, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of
Engineers St. Louis district, confirmed. "We wont
feel the effects of that (at St. Louis) until around the first
members of Congress and the governors of Illinois and
Missourihave written to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant
secretary of the U.S. Armys Civil Works office, who also
has been lobbied by affected industries, including steel (
amm.com, Nov. 16), but Casseau said the Army Corps
of Engineers has not been instructed to amend its operating
"At this point, we have not been
directed to do anything more than maintain the nine-foot
navigation channel, 300 feet wide, and it has been maintained
so far. The navigation depth is still adequate," she said.
"When we get to below five feet (at the St. Louis gauge), the
rock pinnacles at Thebes (Ill.) will be exposed and the Corps
will not be able to maintain its depth or 300-foot-width
minimum in the channel."
Casseau advised shippers to
check the Army Corps
of Engineers website for gauge readings, which are
But most barges and the tugboats
that push them cannot navigate a seven-foot-deep channel
between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., where the lowest water will
be found in the next couple of weeks.
"We need a nine-foot draft. We
need the President to order the Army Corps to move the water
level two more feet," said Debra Colbert, senior vice president
of Arlington, Va.-based trade group Waterways Council Inc.
(WCI). Meanwhile, "shippers are waiting to see what happens.
They are investigating the cost to move cargo on rail and
Citing the severity of the
situation, Colbert said WCI and American Waterways Operators,
another Arlington-based trade group, have reached out to the
governors of Illinois and Missouri, asking them to declare a
state of emergency, "which would trigger a presidential
declaration of emergency. I think both governors are
considering this option."
WCI also has contacted the
Federal Emergency Management Agency "to get them to make a
presidential declaration to release more water from the
The Arms Corps of Engineers and
the U.S. Coast Guard are not closing the river, Colbert said,
"but there are restrictions, so it is closed to us."
"The options of using the river
have diminished," said Cap Grossman, president of St. Louis
recycler Grossman Iron & Steel Co. "The dock we usually use
cannot load anything anymore, so we have to go elsewhere to get
to a nine-foot draft."
With flow restricted from the
Missouri River, Grossman said, projections are pretty dire.
"Right now, we are shipping a lot more by rail," and he expects
that to continue into the spring even though "rail car
availability will be seriously tested."
As for the hit to the
industrys bottom line, "the cost of moving by rail is
double and triple what going by water is," Grossman said. "This
wont bode well for the steel industry, which is barely
breaking the 70-percent capacity utilization (rate)."
The Institute of Scrap Recycling
Industries is working with the National Association of
Manufacturers and others "to try to address this issue," and
has asked members to report how the rivers closure would
affect operations, including the volume of scrap, potential
costs and job lossesinformation that will help ISRI to
"effectively make the case to the Army Corps and the White
A spokeswoman for one Illinois
terminal operator said employees worked through the
Thanksgiving holiday weekend to get metallurgical coal off the
water for use by a local steelmaker "so they dont have to
shut down production" when riverborne coal shipments stop. The
terminal unloaded double the usual number of barges last
"We are trying to get every
barge we can below Cairo so we dont get stuck," Marty
Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for St. Louis-based AEP
River Operations, told AMM Tuesday. "We have had
people cancel loadings out of St. Louis for export. We have had
people looking to reroute product bound for Chicago, to find
capacity on the Ohio River and then rail it to
Industries ship 7 million to 8
million tons per month between Cairo and St. Louis, Hettel
said. "We need 2,500 rail cars or 10,000 trucks a day" to make
up for barge loads, "and they are not available. How many open
cars can handle" hot-briquetted iron, direct-reduced iron and
scrap? "What this river ships per day is phenomenal."
Hettel said his company has been
preparing for the Mississippi Rivers closure for nearly
three weeks because the lack of navigation between St. Louis
and Cairo will stop "everythingexport and
importcutting off all of the Illinois River from Peoria
(Ill.) to Chicago. Unless the man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
declares an emergency, the shutdown will happen."