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More limits on grain barges likely as river keeps dropping

Rain in the drought-stricken Ohio Valley is the only remedy at the moment for falling water levels on the Mississippi River that this week is limiting north-and-south bound barge traffic to alternating12-hour schedules, says the head of a Greenville grain shipping cooperative.

Steve Nail, president & CEO of the Farmers Grain Terminal, said Thursday a 30-day National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast has the river dropping to 6.2 feet on Sept. 18. Thursday’s river level at Greenville stood at 7.6 feet.

The expected 1.4-foot drop likely will lead the Corps of Engineers to order further limits on the amount of draft a grain barge can have, Nail said.

The 30-day forecast is base don current rainfall, he noted.

Maintenance dredging by the Corps forced the alternating north-south barge traffic schedule that allowed barge tows to go north for 12 hours followed by 12 hours of southbound barge traffic, Nail said. He added he expects the dredging to be only temporary, and noted that in the past it has not lasted more than a few days at a time.

On Thursday, barges leaving Greenville could load to a nine-foot draft. With the expected drops in water levels in coming weeks, the draft limit could be reduced to 8 feet, which would cut the grain load each barge could carry by about 6,000 bushels, Nail said.

Rain to the north is the only way to head off further limits on shipping weights as Mississippi’s growers of corn, soybeans, rice and milo reach the peak of their harvests and have the greatest need for access to shipping, Nail said.

“We need rain in the Ohio River Valley,” he said. “Sixty percent of the water that come sby here comes from the Ohio River.”

Meanwhile, 29 barge tows were waiting to head south Thursday, and 34 were in line to go north, The Associated Press reported.

The river was reopened near Greenville Wednesday after a grounded barge was refloated. The waterway has been closed several times in August because of sand and mud blockages, AP reported.

Dredging crews are active along the river in several states trying to keep a navigable channel open.


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