Sunday, July 24, 2011

Missouri River flooding hurts barge industry

Anthony Schick in the Missourian: The Missouri River gave the shipping industry too much of what it needed this summer. After a lasting drought in the river basin decimated the corridor's barge industry for the past decade, this summer's flooding has washed away hopes for a bounce-back year. Long-haul shipping on the Missouri River fell from 1.3 million tons in 2000 to 269,000 tons in 2009. Water levels too low for heavy barge traffic drove away most of the existing shipping on the 675-mile stretch from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis.

When the drought ended at the decade's turn and 2010 estimates neared 333,000 tons, the industry grew optimistic of an upward trend. Rising river levels sparked hope for a longer, healthier shipping season. The Missouri Department of Transportation projected increases of 15 percent to 20 percent this year, Freight Development Administrator Ernie Perry said.

That's not going to happen. The U.S. Coast Guard extended a closure of the Missouri River between Gavins Point Dam and Glasgow last week. That stretch of nearly 600 miles is the longest piece of the river ever closed. Some stretches of the river were too high to navigate even before the closure, Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Manager John LaRandeau said.

"You can imagine the frustration of the people who make their living on the river," LaRandeau said. "River shippers eking by, just trying to get through the drought years, then business comes back and they're ready to enjoy the good years, and the river puts a stop on that."...

Coal hauling barges on the Missouri River in January 2011, shot by Paul Sableman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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