Brett Blume

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) –  What shutdown?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is refuting claims by those representing barge owners that a complete closure of the Mississippi River is imminent.

“The Corps does not see a scenario right now that’s going to completely shut the river down,” said Michael Petersen, chief of public affairs for the St. Louis district of the Army Corps of Engineers. “We’re still providing nine feet of depth like we’re authorized by Congress to do, and we’re confident that we can keep doing that.”

The groups American Waterways Operators (AWO) and Waterways Council, Inc (WCI) have been insisting that a shutdown of commerce on the critical waterway is a matter of “when”, not “if”.

On Wednesday they released a revised estimate claiming that barge passage on the river near Thebes, Illinois south of St. Louis could come to a complete halt any time between January 5th, this Saturday, and January 15th.

“The uncertainty of this deteriorating situation for the nation’s shippers is having as much of an impact as the lack of water itself,” said Michael J. Toohey, WCI’s president & CEO. “The Obama administration must direct the Corps to release enough water to sustain navigation on the Mississippi River now, or time will have run out and an effective shutdown could remain in place for weeks.”

The Corps’ Michael Petersen said he cannot agree with that assessment.

“We’ve seen a lot of ‘finger on the calendar’ moments as river levels drop, and we are confident the end of the world is not near,” he explained. “We’ve moved more than six million cubic yards of settlement, and that’s a whole lot of muck. We also have water control operations going 24/7 because we can modify how our dams are releasing water to try and soften the blow of the falling river.”

But he repeated his assertion that a complete shutdown of barge traffic on the Mississippi River is highly unlikely.


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