Clock Continues to Tick, Time for Action is Now

Press Release
Monday, December 10, 2012

In response to the December 6 letter from Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy to Senator Richard Durbin providing an analysis of the impact of additional Missouri River releases to sustain navigation traffic on the Mississippi River, The American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) have issued the following statement:

We reiterate that barge operators and shippers throughout the nation that rely on safe and efficient water transportation need  the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite its rock pinnacle removal work and release minimal water from the Missouri River reservoirs to maintain navigation on the nation’s busiest water transportation artery.  While the Corps has said that it will begin the rock removal sometime in December, that is only a part of the solution to sustain shipping on the Mississippi River, which remains headed toward effective closure later this month, likely around December 24.  

The release of sufficient water  from Missouri River reservoirs during  the  time  the rock pinnacle work takes place is essential to preserving a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River that will sustain commercial navigation and the movement of our nation’s – and the world’s—most critical commodities and exports.

In the context of recent correspondence between the Corps and Congress, waterways stakeholders continue to emphasize that releasing a modest amount of additional water from the Missouri River reservoirs to maintain navigation on the Mississippi River during this critical period will not harm upriver stakeholders.  

Each day the nation’s farmers, shippers, manufacturers and towboat operators await action from the President to issue an emergency declaration to direct the Corps to act, a complete disruption of the Mississippi River and the nation’s transportation supply chain grows dangerously closer.  

“With each day the Mississippi River drops in depth, we are closer to an effective shutdown of the river. This now is no longer just a future concern, but a current economic disaster,” said AWO President & CEO Tom Allegretti.   “Jobs and families that depend on the river are at risk, and U.S. agricultural export projections are already plummeting as the anticipated absence of cost-effective barge transportation prices American corn and soybeans out of the international market.”

Allegretti also noted the stakes get higher if navigation is severely impaired or halted into the spring and that such a prolonged disruption on the nation’s key transportation artery will have significant ongoing national economic consequences.

“There is the real chance that navigation could at best be severely impaired, and at worst effectively shut down, for an extended period of time if necessary actions are not taken immediately,” he stated. “That would impact not only this year’s agricultural exports, but also key fertilizer shipments that need to reach Midwest farmers by February, and potentially next year’s harvests and agricultural exports as well.”

“This is an economic crisis bearing down on the heartland of the United States. Releasing just a little more water from the Missouri River reservoirs, the nation’s largest reservoir system and one of the largest in the world, over a short period of time will keep businesses open and Americans employed. We urge the White House to take immediate action to resolve this crisis,” said WCI President Mike Toohey.   

AWO and WCI continue to emphasize the sheer volume of the commerce that moves on the Mississippi River and how consumers might eventually feel the impacts of further impairment or closure, stating that $7 billion in key products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products remain at risk in December and January alone, including: 
 

  • Nearly 20,000 jobs and $130 million in wages in Mississippi River states;
  • 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.

Farmers, manufacturers, and shippers are already suffering the consequences of low water, which will continue to grow worse:
 

  • Barges bound for the region have already had their drafts reduced in anticipation of restrictions;  
  • Grain prices are down, fertilizer prices are up, steel, chemical, petroleum products and coal shipments are being reduced, and some cargoes have been cancelled; 
  • Employee layoffs and facility shutdowns are being contemplated.

“Rail and truck can only handle a finite amount of the vast amount of cargo that moves by barge, and what can move will be more expensive and the environmental advantages of using barge transportation will be lost. The ripple effects of the potential economic and logistical consequences are an urgent reality that must be addressed,” Toohey continued.
 

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