The following is the text of a press release issued by American Waterway Operators:
(ARLINGTON, Va.) – Today Senator Richard Durbin held a meeting in Alton, Illinois, with Members of Congress, Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, navigation stakeholders, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard to address the low-water situation on the Mississippi River.
At the meeting, it was announced that the Corps will begin work tomorrow to blast and remove rock pinnacles at Thebes, Illinois, located south of St. Louis on the Mississippi River. The first phase is expected to take 30 days to complete, and the river is expected to remain closed to navigation between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. daily while the work is being done.
The Corps also announced that on Saturday it started to release water from reservoirs located on the Kaskaskia River south of St. Louis to support navigation over the rock pinnacles and areas in need of dredging on the Mississippi River. The Corps said the full extent of the release should reach the area where the rock pinnacle work is being done by December 24 and “will provide up to an additional six inches of depth in this critical reach of the river.”
While any additional water is welcome, shippers and barge operators caution that this offers only a delay of the inevitable, an effective halting of barge transportation around the end of this month as Mississippi levels continue to fall to a level that cannot support most navigation. Stakeholders continue to urge that minimal flows from the Missouri River (less than 2 percent of what is currently in the Missouri River Reservoir system) be released to avert an effective shutdown of the river to barge transportation. While the Corps and the Coast Guard have said that they have no plans to close the river, falling water levels will preclude navigation because towboats will be unable to transit the “bottleneck reach” between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois.
“We deeply appreciate Senator Durbin’s willingness to hold this meeting today to address the low-water crisis on the Mississippi. The release of a modest amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs during the time this rock pinnacle work occurs remains essential to allowing the continued movement of our nation’s basic commodities, especially during this critical export season,” said Michael J. Toohey, President & CEO, Waterways Council, Inc.
“Senator Durbin and the many other lawmakers who have been engaged during this crisis are to be commended for keeping communication open between stakeholders and the Corps and Coast Guard, but this situation continues to deteriorate. The amount of cargo barges can carry has already been reduced by nearly one-third and the number of barges one tow can carry has been decreased by more than one half. For the next 30 to 60 days there will be one-way traffic for only eight hours a day, in the very best case scenario. The effects of this crisis are already being felt by industry workers, shippers, farmers and manufacturers up and down the river and they are going to get worse,” said Tom Allegretti, President & CEO, American Waterways Operators.
The agriculture industry has already witnessed cancelled orders and plummeting export projections as the reality of the loss of cost-effective barge transportation becomes apparent. Businesses face potentially catastrophic losses, and workers face the grim prospect of holiday-season layoffs if navigation on the Mississippi River is not maintained.
This potential supply-chain disruption could amount to a staggering loss for the U.S. economy, including nearly 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages in Mississippi River states as well as $7 billion in commodities in December and January alone, including:
Over 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion;
Over 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion;
1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth over $1.3 billion;
Over 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and,
3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.
AWO, WCI, and thousands of the nation’s farmers, shippers, manufacturers and towboat operators continue to await action from President Obama to stem this economic crisis. The Administration must direct the Corps to release a modest amount of water from Missouri River reservoirs over a short period of time to keep businesses open, exports and cargo moving, and Americans employed.
“For the good of the national economy, we are looking to the President to act to direct release of the critically needed Missouri River water to enable the continued transport of exports and domestic commodities,” Toohey and Allegretti agreed.