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Legislators fight to keep barge traffic flowing down Mississippi River

Published: Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 2:12 p.m. CST

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Aaron Schock (R-18th District) spearheaded a bipartisan letter, co-signed by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-11th District) and more than 60 of their House colleagues, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seeking a resolution over growing concerns about impaired barge traffic down the Mississippi River.

Barge traffic could be severely disrupted or altogether grind to a halt along the middle of the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., because of the Army Corps of Engineers’ annual plan to reduce and eventually shut off water flows during this time of the year.

“The Mississippi River is a major artery of commerce for Illinois manufacturers and the agriculture community. As a vital gateway for American products to be shipped to markets throughout the U.S. and to ports around the globe, our economy can’t afford any interruptions to this steady flow of commerce,” Schock said. “This is ultimately about saving businesses both large and small, and protecting American jobs. I’m calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to work with Congress on a commonsense solution to keep barge traffic flowing.”

The potential impact could be felt as early as Monday of this year. Every year, the Army Corps of Engineers scales back the amount of water released from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River. It’s part of their normal operating procedures, and typically would not cause any negative impact. However, due to already low water levels on the Mississippi River caused by this year’s severe drought, the water flow scale back could be a major problem. In addition to low water, rock pinnacles on the Mississippi River are of particular concern as barges try to navigate the low waters of the Mississippi River. The Army Corps of Engineers is planning to remove the rock pinnacles, but this process will not take place for several more months.

A broad coalition, including Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, American Soybean Association, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, The Fertilizer Institute, Waterways Council Inc., Nucor Corporation, Archer Daniels Midland Co., American Waterways Operators, Growmark, Arch Coal, National Association of Manufacturers, and Cargill, among many others, has brought these concerns to the forefront.

“Manufacturers are very concerned about any closure along the Mississippi River, as it is critical to the nation’s economy and manufacturers’ ability to move products,” said Jay Timmons, President and CEO of National Association of Manufacturers Association. “There is no doubt that our economic competitiveness will be at stake if towboats and barges moving various agriculture products as well as steel, coal, petroleum products and other commodities critical to manufacturing are halted, and we cannot afford any breakdown in our nation’s transportation network.”

“The prospect of shutting down traffic on the Middle Mississippi River when there are ways to keep barges moving at a very busy time defies logic,” said Illinois Farm Bureau president Philip Nelson. “The river is an economic super highway that must remain open. Illinois Farm Bureau applauds Rep. Schock and other members of the Illinois congressional delegation for calling attention to the problem and for urging the Administration to prevent a drought-related problem from turning into a full-fledged economic crisis.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must be authorized to do everything in its power to keep river commerce moving.”

“On behalf of our members, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce would like to thank Congressman Schock for his leadership on this issue. Freight delays due to broken locks on the Mississippi are in the millions of dollars; a complete loss of navigable waters for any portion of the river would impact numerous industries with losses significantly more than those resulting from a broken lock,” said Ben Brockschmidt, a director of Federal Affairs, Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “We are already seeing some of these consequences as companies delay future shipments of commodities, raw materials, and other goods due to the uncertainty of water levels in the Mississippi River and hope the Army Corps acts quickly to resolve this situation.”

The bipartisan letter hopes to accomplish two objectives: Ensure that the Army Corps keeps releasing water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi River, and speed up planned removal of rock pinnacles in the Mississippi River.

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