CHICAGO The middle
Mississippi River is finally wide enough and deep enough for
near-normal seasonal navigation, thanks to dredging projects
and precipitation, according to a major barge operator and the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Army Corps of Engineers
removed 8 million cubic yards of sediment and rock since
August, twice as much as would be dredged in a non-drought
year, Mike Petersen, spokesman for the agencys St. Louis
District, said March 5.
"As far as draft (the depth
allowed for moving vessels), there are no restrictions right
now and barges and tows are loading normal amounts," he said.
"Traffic is moving. We are through the tough spot."
Since the end of December, "when
the low level became critical, the Corps gave us two more feet
of water down at Thebes (Ill., where contractors blasted rock
pinnacles), and weve had tremendous help from Mother
Nature" in the form of snowstorms, Marty Hettel, senior manager
of bulk sales at St. Louis-based AEP River Operations, said
The only thing left to do is
rebuoy the channel, which is akin to moving buoys farther apart
to create a four-lane path in a two-lane channel. That should
be done by the end of this week, he said.
"We are in much better shape,"
he said, adding that vessel operators also look forward to the
spring release of water from Gavins Point Dam, on the upper
Missouri River north of Sioux City, S.D.
The release should add to the
Mississippis channel depth at St. Louis by April 1,
Petersen said. The Army Corps of Engineers twice released water
from Carlyle Lake, a reservoir along the Kaskaskia River near
St. Louis, this winter to ensure minimum drafts.
"I think we are through the
critical times," Hettel said, "but who knows what happens next
fall, when the Corps shuts the reservoir on the Missouri again.
Well cross that bridge when we come to it."
The Corps is well aware that
droughts typically last more than a year and is prepared to
respond if river levels get low later this year, Petersen
Meanwhile, Hettel said AEP is
able to load 12-foot depths and expects to get back up to 25-
and 30-barge tows per push by the end of the week.
Commodities shipped include
steel and aluminum, scrap, ferroalloys and metallurgical