ST. LOUIS (KMOX) – The Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin a multi-million dollar project to blast jagged rocks on the Mississippi River that pose a threat to barge traffic.

Right now, the water level is so low that the rocks threaten to halt barge traffic, leaving thousands of barge workers out of a job.

“What we’re trying to prevent here could be much worse,” Army Corps of Engineers Chief Hydraulic Engineer David Gordon warned. “When [barges] ground on top of rock, much different than sand, they can tear a hole into their barge, spill out the cargo, sometime the cargo is very dangerous. It’s not just grain but something liquid.”

But Gordon said the new rock blasts should alleviate that threat.

“This is a project that will last forever, that we are putting out there to last throughout any drought year,” Gordon said.

The blasting starts January 3, 2013 at the latest and could last as long as 60 days. The majority of the blasting will be done about 125 miles south of St. Louis near Thebes, Illinois.

The river was about 13 feet deep Wednesday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Further restrictions on barge traffic are likely if the river drops as low as 9 feet. A National Weather service meteorologist told the Associated Press that the 9-foot mark is expected to occur around Dec. 29 and that the river will be 8 feet deep by Jan. 2.

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