ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Two barge worker unions have released a concerning statement, suggesting that a commercial shutdown of the Mississippi River could come as soon as next week.
The American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc. released the joint statement Thursday morning. The groups say they met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Christmas Eve and were briefed on the 28-day weather forecast for the area near Thebes, Illinois. While original estimates warned of a shutdown in mid-January, the latest figures suggest on the continent’s largest waterway could come to a halt by January 3 or 4.
According to the unions, vessel drafts will be limited to 8 feet by late next week. Towboats require a nine-foot draft to operate while a “very small number of towing vessels can operate at 8 or 7-foot drafts.”
The Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard have repeatedly claimed that a rock blasting effort near Thebes will release enough water to prevent a shutdown but the unions aren’t as optimistic.
“The Corps’ rock pinnacle removal and dredging work and our collective prayers for rain have not produced enough water to sustain on the Mississippi River and so the [Obama] Administration must act to avert a closure,” Waterways Council, Inc. President and CEO Michael Toohey said in a release. “We have been urging action all along and the time is now to release needed water or we will have run out of time on this national crisis.”
“Unless the Administration takes action now, the nation risks 60 days or more without waterborne commerce on the mid-Mississippi River,” American Waterways Operators President and CEO Tom Allegretti said. “We urge the White House to authorize the release of additional water immediately to maintain navigation on our country’s busiest and most important waterway.”