Waterways Operators Commend Administration, Senator Durbin, Corps of Engineers; Stress Need for Continued Assurance of 9-Foot Navigation Channel on Mississippi River.
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 which 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, as rock pinnacle removal work at Thebes, Illinois, has gone better than expected. The Corps has also released additional water from the Carlyle Lake Reservoir to augment water depth on the mid-Mississippi.
AWO and WCI 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 reiterates, however, that it 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,” he continued.
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. 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 cancelled or curtailed; and jobs have been jeopardized.
“There is too much at stake for businesses and their customers that depend on the river, as well as the economies of Mississippi River states and ultimately the country, to put our hopes in best-case scenarios,” Allegretti and Toohey agreed. “Without an assurance that a 9-foot draft will be maintained throughout the winter months, we lack certainty that the nation’s most important waterway will continue to effectively move the nation’s commerce.”