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Corps: River closing has barges running nearly a half-day behind

Mississippi River

Mississippi River

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says delays of barge traffic have run about 10 hours since the Corps began closing a three-mile stretch of the Mississippi River from dawn to dusk to reinforce a section of river bank between Memphis, Tennessee and Greenville.

The Corps said backups of barge traffic that occurred during the first days of the closure were cleared overnight Friday and Saturday. The Corps also said yesterday it has agreed to delay repair work each morning if necessary to accommodate tows that don’t clear the work area overnight.

“If for some reason the queue has not cleared by daylight, we will postpone beginning our revetment work until all of the vessels are thru this section of the river,” Maj. Gen. Michael Wehr, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, said in a news release.

Still, Waterways Council spokesman Mike Toohey says the delays are costly. He estimated the cost of the first day of delays for shippers was more than $450,000, based on daily and hourly rates charged by barge and towboat companies.

He said future costs of the current project, estimated to last two weeks, are uncertain because the volume of future traffic is unknown.

Toohey said yesterday the Corps and those affected by the delays are discussing the situation daily.

The corps says the work, at a big curve where the river scoured out the bank during the 2011 floods, needs to be done now, at a period of low water on the Mississippi.

Shippers and farmers are also concerned about timing.

“With winter approaching, it is imperative that barge traffic not be impeded so as to allow as much grain as possible to be transported before weather prevents such shipments,” Chip Bowling, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said in a letter to Corps officials that was posted on the group’s website.

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