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Late ice halts shipments on Mississippi

Keywords: Tags  Mississippi River, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ice blockages, shipments, barges, Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — Ice blockages have delayed shipments on the upper Mississippi River, and the northern stretches of the waterway are unlikely to be navigable before the middle of next week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told AMM.

Winter weather has lasted much longer than is typical, with a stretch of the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota, at Lake Pepin, seeing ice as thick as 26 inches as recently as March 27, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

"Right now we’re starting to get some traffic that’s coming within our very southern locks in northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, (but) Mother Nature has a pretty good stranglehold on (the river) this year," a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers told AMM. Commerce on the river cannot yet begin, he added.

Companies that ship via the river have suffered delays lasting at least several weeks. The holdups have primarily affected the northern Midwest and Great Plains regions, sources said.

"This winter of ’12, my barges are still stuck in the river system in Illinois and are unlikely to get unloaded at destination until the middle or second half of April. ... We’re a month behind where we were last year," a source at a southern rebar mill said.

"We usually get shipments for early April," according to a Minnesota rebar distributor, who has been waiting to receive product. "We’re not going to be able to get anything (until) the barges come through."

However, companies in the Great Plains and Minnesota that ship product by rail or purchase locally told AMM that they hadn’t been affected by Mississippi ice floes.

The upper Mississippi usually opens up to shipping in mid-March, and there have been fewer than 10 occasions when it remained closed past March 31. However, the Army Corps of Engineers spokesman predicted that the waterway would begin to open up next week.

"Assuming the ice melts quickly and there’s enough navigation interest to push through, I would expect (the middle of) next week, hopefully," he said. "There’s a lot variables, and it’s up to the navigation industry to break the ice."

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