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Low Mississippi River Threatens Barge Shipping

By Daniel Cherry | Published 22 Aug 2012 08:24pm | comments
Barge traffic along the Mississippi River near Greenville is able to resume...for now. MPB's Daniel Cherry reports how drought conditions are leading to constant shutdowns and shallow ports. That's worrying those who's livelihoods depend on the river.
 
The Mississippi River is nearing it's lowest levels in nearly 25 years, and that's disrupting loading and unloading in the ports along the river. The Mississippi River Commission held a public hearing yesterday on a tow anchored across the river from Greenville. Tommy Hart, Greenville Port Commissioner, stressed the need for dredging to the panel because his port is getting too shallow.
 
"We have been light loading, using about 4 barges to haul normally what 3 would haul, so that's increased transportation costs about 25%."
 
Hart says as agriculture harvests come in, this is the most important time of the year. The port will do half of it's annual business in the next two to three months, and if barges can't load, shippers will look elsewhere.
 
"It will divert to other modes of transportation. So far the public terminal has diverted about 10% of its annual volume to rail and truck because of not being able to meet minimum loads through normal barge shipping."
 
A common 15 barge tow carries the capacity of more than one thousand trucks, so if vessels can't load, that's a lot more trucks on the road, and eventually, higher costs to consumers. Colonel Jeff Eckstein is Commander of the Vicksburg District of the Army Corps of Engineers. His crews are responsible for dredging out 6 ports along the river.
 
"As you can imagine, we can't be in 6 places at one time. We're trying to meet the needs of the different harbors to facilitate getting the crops out at the same time, the river keeps dropping down every day."
 
Eckstein says the Corps is using disaster funds to pay for the dredging, but no more funds are expected to be allocated next year.

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