Mississippi shutdown fears eased, for now

rock removalJANUARY 8, 2013 — The American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) reacted today to recent statements from Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that indicate that the Mississippi River will be able to sustain navigation through the end of January for towboats and barges at a 9-foot draft.

Rock pinnacle removal work at Thebes, Illinois (see earlier story), has gone better than expected and the Corps has also released additional water from the Carlyle Lake Reservoir to augment water depth on the mid-Mississippi.

AWO and WCI say they are grateful for the efforts of the Obama Administration, Senator Durbin, and the many other Senators, Members of Congress, and Governors from Mississippi River states, who have underscored the importance of maintaining barge traffic on the nation's busiest water transportation artery.

The industry, however, continues to seek assurances that all options to maintain navigation without further restrictions on draft remain on the table, noting that certainty is particularly important, with long-range forecasts continuing to show water levels on the Mississippi dropping to historic lows.

"The Corps' progress in removing rock formations and providing additional water releases is a positive development," said Tom Allegretti, AWO's President & CEO. "However, we are not out of the woods, and further assurances are needed to provide industry with certainty that is needed for sound business and transportation planning beyond January."

"If a barge has a 14-day transit time from loading to the low points on the river, barge operators and their customers must make plans based on the forecasted water depth at the time of the barge's arrival at the bottleneck," said Michael Toohey, WCI President & CEO. "That is why longer-term assurance that barges can reliably load to a 9-foot draft even beyond January is absolutely critical.".

Since November, barge operators and shippers have had to base operating decisions about loading, transiting and purchases based on the best available, though changing, estimates. AWO and WCI say that economic damage has resulted from that uncertainty. In some cases, the size of tows carrying essential commodities for export and domestic use has been cut in half; transit times have more than doubled; orders have been canceled or curtailed; and jobs have been jeopardized.

The American Waterways Operators is the national trade association representing the nation's tugboat, towboat and barge industry which operates along the rivers, coasts, Great Lakes and harbors of the United States.  

Waterways Council, Inc. is the national public policy organization advocating a modern and well-maintained national system of ports and inland waterways.  Its members include shippers and receivers of bulk commodities, waterways carriers, ports, shipping associations, agriculture groups, organized labor, advocacy groups, and environmental and conservation organizations.

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