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Mississippi River shippers face flooding delays

Keywords: Tags  Mississippi River, flooding, lock closures, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, Beelman River Terminal, Ingram Barge, Grossman Iron & Steel Cap Grossman

CHICAGO — Flooding has forced several lock closures along the upper Mississippi River, stranding some barges carrying steel and steelmaking materials below St. Louis, according to government and industry sources.

"Locks 17, 18, 20, 21 and 22 are all closed," Hilary Markin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District, told AMM June 5. "Basically, the water overtops the lock gates, so we pulled up our machinery. The flooding is not as bad as in April (, April 19) but it is still impacting us. Crests are not expected to be as high, based on National Weather Service reports."

Locks 17 and 18 are expected to reopen June 9, followed by Locks 21 and 22 on June 10 and Lock 20 on June 11, Markin said. "Those predictions (are) based on (weather) forecasting and the time it takes to clean and dry our machinery and get (ready) for navigation."

St. Louis harbor was closed along with Lock 24 at Clarksville, Mo., Lock 25 in Winfield, Mo., and the Chain of Rocks Lock and Dam 27 in Granite City, Mo., said Mike Petersen, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District. "The current is moving fast and there is a lot of driftwood, an endless supply of trees. It looks like a forest flowing past, (making it) dangerous on the river."

The U.S. Coast Guard has closed the river to navigation from mile markers 179 to 185. "No traffic is moving (at St. Louis)," Petersen said.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard had warned vessel operators of the dangers, so most moved their ships out of St. Louis harbor in advance of the closures. But Petersen said he expected some traffic to queue up at Cairo, Ill., below St. Louis, waiting to move north.

A spokeswoman for Beelman River Terminals Inc. in Venice, Ill., confirmed that cargoes stalled at Cairo include a barge of steel coils and a barge of slag destined for a mill in Granite City. "We are completely shut down on both sides (of the river)," she said June 5.

A spokeswoman for Memphis, Tenn.-based Ingram Barge Co. said none of the company’s equipment is stuck anywhere. "We anticipated lock closures and moved our cargo around due to the potential for hazardous river conditions," she said. "A small number of deliveries may be delayed a few days, but as locks reopen we will get back on schedule."

Barge, tow and tug operators were well prepared for the latest deluge following April’s record flooding. "This is like a normal seasonal rainfall (by comparison)," one source said.

There were hiccups, however.

"I’m sitting in my office with a scuba tank and flippers at the side of my desk," Grossman Iron & Steel Co. president Cap Grossman said. "The flood gates are closed, and the Corps of Engineers have the Port of St. Louis shut down."

In addition, "our lead to the local switching rail line is shut down. I have got no shipments out and no empties in, so there are some seriously dislocated shipments here," he said.

Grossman said he hasn’t yet determined whether shipments will have to move by truck. "No one is calling to tell me they need scrap in their furnace after lunch, so I will bide my time letting Mother Nature dictate what happens next," he said.

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