Barge shipping | St. Louis Public Radio

Barge shipping

Barge traffic along the Mississippi plays a key role in the U.S. economy.
File photo

Some heavy equipment is pounding away this week at the rock in a section of the Mississippi River south of St. Louis. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the removal is essential to keeping cargo moving along the river. Crews are working this week at Thebes, Illinois, near Cape Girardeau.

Shipping on the Mississippi is vital to the U.S. economy. A Corps spokesman said more than 100 million tons of cargo, including 60 percent of the nation's agricultural exports, move along the river every year. And the engineers have a responsibility to keep the shipping channel at least 9-feet deep and 300-feet wide.

barge shipping, Mississippi River
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

A barge and transportation industry group is sharply criticizing the president’s budget request for river infrastructure and upkeep.

Waterways Council Inc. called President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for the U.S. Army Corps the "most disappointing to date." The budget proposes $4.6 billion for the Corps’ civil works program, nearly 30 percent less than the current appropriation by Congress.

Jess Jiang / St. Louis Public Radio

Historically, the nation's barges have transported much of the nation's coal. In fact, barges are second only behind rail for moving the nation's primary energy source to the power plants that use it.  But in June, the EPA put out a new rule to cut carbon emissions by thirty percent by 2030. The rule's impact on power plants is direct. But what about the impact on the barge industry?  

(Flickr/Brian Hillegas)

The U.S. Senate passed the first legislation authorizing infrastructure upgrades on the nation’s waterways since 2007, including improvements to locks and dams along the Mississippi River.

The Water Resources Reform and Development Act passed 91-7 Thursday, sending the bill to the president. The House passed the measure Tuesday on a 412-4 vote.

The 34 projects authorized by the omnibus legislation will cost an estimated $12.3 billion. Missouri's and Illinois’ senators all voted for the bill. It includes several projects that directly affect this area.       

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

A major river commerce group endorsed a plan Tuesday to increase container-on-barge traffic on the Mississippi River. 

The Inland Rivers, Ports and Terminals Association supports shipping goods in containers on barges up and down the Mississippi River. That’s seen as an alternative to using trucks or rail. The group made the announcement at its annual conference in St. Louis.

Kelly Martin / Via Wikimedia Commons

After flooding this spring, a dry summer has slowly dropped water levels on the Mississippi River.

The River gauge in St. Louis was close to zero on Sunday morning and could drop to negative two feet by the end of the month.

U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Peterson says they’re watching the situation closely.

But after last year’s drought threatened to stop barge shipping, he says the Corps is better prepared for a low water situation this fall and winter. 

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

Updated at 3:34 p.m. on Monday

A barge broke loose and struck the I-370 rail bridge near St. Charles on Saturday morning, the U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the incident.  

Even though water levels are up, last year’s drought is suspected to have played a role in the accident.  

Fallen trees on river banks are normally swept away one by one, but they piled up when water levels shrunk during the drought.

Now that levels are high, a lot of large trees are suddenly floating in major rivers. 

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

Members of the barge shipping industry are on Capitol Hill today, asking Congress to raise the taxes they pay for fuel.  

Shippers support a plan that would increase the fuel tax they pay from 20 cents per-gallon to 29 cents per-gallon of diesel fuel. The extra money would be used to fund improvements to locks and dams, some of which are more than 70 years old.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

What a difference just a few weeks makes. 

Earlier this year shippers feared that the worst drought in decades would slam the brakes on the billion dollar barge shipping industry, but recent heavy rains and snow have raised water levels on the drought starved Mississippi River.    

Even though shippers are back to carrying normal loads, American Waterways Operators spokeswoman Ann McCulluh says the industry remains anxious about the future.

“You can bet that we will be watching the forecast, watching the water levels very carefully,” McCulluh said.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

It seems like we’re constantly hearing about how the worst drought in decades is threatening barge shipping on the Mississippi River. 

One day we’re facing a shutdown, the next day they say commerce will keep rolling on the river.  

Here’s the latest: The Army Corp of Engineers says it’s done enough work to keep the waterway open until the end of this month.   

After that, though, no one is making any promises, and that uncertainty is giving the shipping industry a lingering headache and could end up with local companies cutting jobs.   

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The barge industry again raised concerns Wednesday about the impact low water levels on the Mississippi River will have on shipping.

According to a new report from American Waterways Operators, low water could affect more than 8,000 jobs along the river. The group's spokeswoman, Ann McCulloch, says the situation isn't expected to improve any time soon.

"We're definitely worried about the immediate impact if commerce is severely impaired," said McCulloch.  "We're at that stage already and at this point it can only get worse."

Mississippi Levels Drop, Barge Traffic Could Halt Mid-January

Dec 28, 2012
via Flickr/TeamSaintLouis (Army Corps of Engineers)

Updated 3:13 p.m. Dec. 28

The Mississippi River's water level is dropping again and barge industry trade groups warn that river commerce could essentially come to a halt by mid-January.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports ice on the northern section of the Mississippi is reducing flow more than expected.

Despite that fact, the Coast Guard remains confident that the nation's largest waterway will remain open.

More Water For Missouri River - But What About The Mississippi Situation?

Dec 18, 2012
via Flickr/TeamSaintLouis (Army Corps of Engineers)

Updated 2:10 p.m. with information about excavation and blasting.

Updated at 4:45 p.m. to include comments from Jody Farhat of the Corps of Engineers.

The amount of water flowing into the lower Missouri River will be increased this week because of concerns about colder temperatures, but the increase isn't likely to boost the level of the Mississippi River downstream.

(via Flickr/The Confluence)

The Army Corps of Engineers has started releasing more water from Carlyle Lake in Illinois to help keep barges moving along the Mississippi River.

Army Corps of Engineers Spokesman Mike Peterson says they had a pretty good idea this summer’s brutal drought would cause big shipping problems in the fall and winter.

So, they held back water in Carlyle Lake, which is a little over 50 miles east of St. Louis, because it's one of the region's few reservoirs with a little extra water from rain.  

Major Pipeline Using Missouri River Among Ideas For Aiding Arid West

Dec 10, 2012
(via Wikimedia Commons/DEMIS Mapserver/Shannon 1)

Drought-stricken Midwestern states are already squabbling over rights to water in the region's rivers. Now, the fight could be intensified by a new idea for diverting water from the Missouri River to help seven arid states in the West.

Corps Of Engineers Decides Against Releasing More Water For Mississippi

Dec 7, 2012
(via Flickr/The Confluence)

A top Army Corps of Engineers official says she believes the low Mississippi River will remain open to shipping, partly justifying the agency's decision to not release more water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi.

Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, in a Thursday letter obtained by The Associated Press, tells lawmakers from Mississippi River states that the agency won't be scaling back the amount of Missouri River water it began withholding last month from the Mississippi.

(via Flickr/pasa47)

Politicians across the Midwest are continuing to press the President to declare a state of emergency on the Mississippi River to allow barge traffic to keep flowing.

Every year roughly $180 billion worth of freight makes its way up and down the river.

Now, a record shortage of water on the nation’s major inland waterways is expected to put upward pressure on everything from food items to electricity.

The drought effect

Adam Allington / St. Louis Public Radio

Businesses that work and ship on the Mississippi River are seeking a presidential declaration keep water flowing out of reservoirs on the Missouri River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers closes dams in South Dakota at this time every year to store water to maintain levels later in the spring and summer.

The Missouri River accounts for roughly 60 percent of the water flowing by St. Louis. In a drought-year like this year, George Foster of St. Louis’ J.B. Marine says reducing river levels would risk closing the shipping channel.

Lawmakers: Mississippi River Locks 'Desperate' For Repair

Sep 25, 2012
(via Flickr/The Confluence)

Federal lawmakers from several states along the Mississippi River are pressing to modernize the waterway's locks-and-dams system, which they say desperately needs repair.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk of Illinois, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt from Missouri, and Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley from Iowa are pressing the Environmental and Public Works Committee to ensure funding to hasten what they term critical improvements.

Stikywikit / Flickr

Updated 1:45 p.m. Lock 27 reopened this morning at 3:30 a.m. after being closed for 5 days. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it may take up to 72 hours to push through the  63 vessels and 455 barges, some from as far as New Orleans, that backed up during the closure. The Corps estimated that the closure cost nearly $3 million per day . Lock 27 underwent major rehab in the past few years and was damaged due to low water levels.

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