Mississippi River Closure: USCG “Looking to Start Northbound Traffic Today” [UPDATE]

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August 21, 2012

(Bloomberg) — The U.S. Coast Guard expects to open to traffic a section of the Mississippi River near Greenville, Mississippi, that was shut because of shallow water.

The Coast Guard is “looking to start northbound traffic today,” Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Tippets, a New Orleans- based public affairs officer for the guard, said in a telephone interview. Southbound traffic will follow, he said.

There were 45 vessels waiting to move north and 50 southbound at the safety zone between mile markers 530 and 535, Tippets said.
The drought across the Midwest has left the Mississippi River system, which includes the Ohio and Missouri rivers, with low water levels that have impeded and delayed barge traffic.

The river near Greenville has been shut a few times since July, said Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers. The area was opened to one-way traffic late yesterday until a ship grounded, he said.

Inland waterways carry 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports, 22 percent of domestic petroleum and 20 percent of coal used to generate electricity, Ann McCulloch, a spokeswoman for the National Waterways Foundation in Arlington, Virginia, said in a telephone interview. The majority of that moves over the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, she said.

The key to resuming traffic is dredging low-water areas, McCulloch said. The buildup of vessels could take between three and five days to clear up once the river section is open.

Each of the vessels, or towboats, may be moving 25 to 35 barges under low-water conditions, compared with 35 to 45 barges during normal conditions, said Anderson.

-By Paul Burkhardt.  Copyright 2012 Bloomberg.
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