EAST ALTON, Ill. – As work begins to blast away rock pinnacles posing a hazard to barge traffic on the Mississippi River, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon participated in a meeting today convened by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, members of Illinois’ Congressional Delegation and industry stakeholders to discuss the Corps’ response to the Mississippi’s near-record low water level. During the meeting, the Corps provided a briefing on their efforts – including removing the rock pinnacles between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., and increasing dredging – to maintain water flow on the Mississippi.
“The Mississippi River is a vital economic tool that enables our farmers and companies to efficiently ship goods around the world. Transporting those goods on our roads or by rail will cost many times more than shipping them along the river, and many of our Illinois companies – who employ thousands of hard-working men and women – cannot afford those costs. I would like to thank Sen. Durbin for convening this panel of experts, and I look forward to working together to preserve this important economic engine,” Simon said.
In addition to Simon, Durbin and the Army Corps of Engineers, the meeting was attended by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL-12) and representatives from stakeholder industries such as agriculture, shipping, coal and petroleum. A complete list of meeting attendees is attached.
“We came together as users and stakeholders, industry and government interests, concerned about low water levels on the Mississippi and the effects it could have on the economy locally, regionally, and nationally,” Durbin said. “I look forward to continuing to work together in a productive way to build on the successes we’ve had in the last few weeks to maintain navigation on the river.”
Today, Army Corps contractors will begin demolishing rock pinnacles posing a hazard to barges along a fifteen-mile stretch of river near Thebes. Both contractors will use specialized “drill rig barges” to drill large holes into bedrock, insert blast material and remove the rock. Assistant Secretary Darcy agreed to expedite the blasting process, which is expected to last 30-45 days, following a meeting with Sen. Durbin and several other senators.
On Dec. 7, Lt. Governor Simon, chair of the Mississippi River Coordinating Council convened a meeting with officials from the Corps to discuss the impact the 2012 drought has had on water levels of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. The Lt. Governor also wrote to U.S. Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy, urging federal officials to intervene to help preserve the river.
Water levels are already approaching 1989’s record drought levels, and barges are currently required to carry lighter loads. Mississippi River commerce is estimated to be a $180 billion a year industry. If water levels drop below nine feet, barge traffic from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down. Trucks utilize more fuel than barges, and barges are able to carry a larger volume of goods than trains or trucks. According to the federal Government Accounting Office, the cost of trucking goods is nine times higher than the cost of transporting products by water.
In addition to blasting, the Corps is also planning to increase dredging along the river. Besides the dredging machine already in use, the Corps mobilized a second dredging machine last week and has identified other dredging ships which can be used, if necessary, to keep the river open to traffic.
The Mississippi River is a critical transportation artery for essential commodities like corn, grain and oilseeds, coal, petroleum and other products. The financial impact of a river shutdown could be far reaching. This summer’s historic drought has caused the Mississippi’s water level to fall to historic lows, threatening navigation of the river. Recent rainfall and weather forecasts have improved the Mississippi’s outlook, though the water level could still fall to a record low as soon as Dec. 26.