CHICAGO The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers latest channel improvement project on
the Mississippi River is progressing quickly and cargoes are
moving through the area, a spokesman told AMM.
The Army Corps of
Engineers St. Louis division recently expedited a
contract to blast away exposed rock formations at Thebes, Ill.,
to aid navigation on the river, which has been severely
hampered by low water levels caused by the Midwest drought.
Operators of 9-foot-draft vessels and the shippers they service
have had to reduce loads by up to 50 percent; because navigable
channels have been narrowed, theyve also reduced the
number of barges per tow.
The U.S. Coast Guard has
established a safety zone around the work. Blasting, which
began Dec. 17, takes place 16 hours a day, allowing vessels to
pass at night.
"The progress is excellent and
is moving quickly. We expect 2 feet of additional depth in the
channel by Jan. 11," Bob Anderson, spokesman for the Army Corps
of Engineers Mississippi Valley division, told
AMM. Another phase of the project will widen the
channel at Grand Towers, about 40 miles downstream, he
"The (average daily) number of
tows waiting are 40 to 50 northbound and southbound," Anderson
said. To date, no vessels have had to wait an extra day to
transit the work zone.
The Army Corps of Engineers has
twice released reservoir water to improve flow at St. Louis.
The latest National Weather Service forecast indicates snow
melt and rain this week, which should "add several inches to
the river," Anderson said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), who
had pushed Army Corps of Engineers leadership to take action on
the problem, was among a group who took a boat tour of the
Thebes work site this week.
"We took them out to the rock
removal site near Thebes. We showed them how the survey boats
operate and how deep the river is where rock has been removed,"
Anderson said. "We had a meeting (Monday) with the navigation
industry and the Coast Guard. Shippers are complimentary about
the work, and theyre glad we expedited the contract
Shippers and vessel owners
represented by the American Waterways Operators (AWO) and the
Waterways Council trade groups thanked elected officials for
their efforts, but "we are not out of the woods," AWO president
Thomas Allegretti said Tuesday.
"Further assurances are needed
to provide industry with the certainty necessary for sound
business and transportation planning beyond January. Economic
damage has resulted from that uncertainty," he said. For
months, the size of some tows "carrying commodities ... has
been cut in half; transit times have more than doubled; orders
have been canceled or curtailed; and jobs have been
The volume of commodities
shipped through two lock systems dropped sharply in December
from the previously month (see chart).
Allegretti said that without an
assurance that a 9-foot draft will be maintained throughout
winter, "we lack certainty that the (Mississippi) will continue
to effectively move commerce."