CHICAGO Contractors hired
by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have begun blasting away at
exposed rock formations in the Mississippi River at Thebes,
Ill., in order to permanently improve the navigable channel
there for barge traffic.
Work at Thebes began Monday on
the rock formations, while the Army Corps since Saturday has
increased the flow of water into the river from Carlyle Lake in
Illinoisboth efforts to eliminate the danger that low
water levels on the Mississippi have posed to shipping
(amm.com, Dec. 13).
"Water from the lake will help
provide the depth necessary for river commerce to pass Thebes,
Ill., where rock formations pose a risk to navigation at minus
5 feet and below on the St. Louis gauge," Maj. Gen. John
Peabody, commander of the Army Corps Mississippi Valley
The full extent of the releases
from Carlyle Lake is expected to reach Thebes by Dec. 24,
providing an additional 6 inches of depth in a "critical reach
of the river." The releases will continue as needed until river
levels get a boost from rain and snowfall.
The St. Louis gauge was at minus
3.3 feet Tuesday and was expected to rise to minus 2.7 feet
Wednesday, according to the Army Corps daily river and
During the blasting project, the
U.S. Coast Guard has placed a temporary closure on a small
section of the river, allowing traffic to pass from 10 p.m. to
6 a.m. daily in one direction at a time, Lt. Colin Fogarty told
AMM Tuesday. Northbound tows moved Monday night, with
southbound vessels scheduled to move Tuesday night.
"We have 16 vessels in the queue
as of noon, both north and southbound. Many are fully loaded,
15 (barges) per tow," Fogarty said Tuesday, noting that the
rock removal project could be completed by March.
The blasting work and water
releases came as welcome news to shippers, port operators and
the barge, tow and tugboat industry, as well as elected
officials, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who
pushed Corps leadership to take action.
However, the American Waterways
Operators (AWO) and the Waterways Council urged that more water
be released from the Missouri River reservoir system to avert a
shutdown of the river to barge transportation, which could
occur by the end of December.
Water levels will preclude
navigation as towboats will be unable to transit the
"bottleneck" between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., Waterways
Council president Michael J. Toohey said Monday.
"Lawmakers who have been engaged
during this crisis are to be commended ... but this situation
continues to deteriorate," he said, citing the light-loading of
barges by a third to half their capacity.
"For the next 30 to 60 days,
there will be one-way traffic for only eight hours a day, in
the very-best-case scenario," AWO president Tom Allegretti
In December and January alone,
$7 billion worth of commoditiesincluding steel, scrap,
metallurgical coal and crude oiltransit the river, the
Waterways Council estimates.
The low water is already
"hurting" steel shipments, an upper Mississippi Valley
"On the one hand, a couple mills
are quoting delivered prices on the river and we will still get
that, but on any subsequent orders we will have to pay extra
for truck and rail shipments," the distributor said.