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Corps not budging on Miss. River flap

By JIM SUHR and JIM SALTER Published: December 8, 2012

Several Midwest lawmakers met privately with Darcy last week, asking her to analyze whether additional water from the Missouri can be released without sacrificing the corps' objectives upriver from the South Dakota dam. Darcy's letter was their answer — and to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, an understandable one, in that the corps is bound legislatively to be the Missouri's steward, independent of any consequences for the Mississippi.

“She believes releasing water could threaten the Missouri River navigation in 2013. That's her technical conclusion, which is not good news for us downriver,” Durbin told The Associated Press.

Durbin said he would seek another meeting next week with Darcy, with barge operators and other Mississippi-dependent industries to attend so Darcy can “spell out to them in as much detail as possible her vision of getting through this challenge without serious disruption to the economy.”

The Mississippi's level at St. Louis was around 13 feet Friday — about four feet above the point at which the U.S. Coast Guard has said could necessitate further barge restrictions. Previous forecasts suggested the river could dip to the 9-foot level as early as Sunday, though the weather service said this week it believes the river will stay above the 9-foot threshold until about Dec. 29.

Two shipping-related industry groups pressed the corps Friday to relent, insisting that releasing “a modest amount of additional water” from the Missouri won't harm upriver interests.

“With each day the Mississippi River drops in depth, we are closer to an effective shutdown of the river. This now is no longer just a future concern, but a current economic disaster,” said Tom Allegretti, president and CEO of American Waterways Operators.

“This is an economic crisis bearing down on the heartland of the United States,” added Mike Toohey, president of the Waterways Council Inc.

As for the rock pinnacles, the corps originally planned to hire a contractor by early February to blow up the rocks, but at the request of lawmakers have hastened that effort, with Darcy saying it could begin this month.

All the while, the corps continues to look at options to ensure the Mississippi stays open, including considering reducing the water level at five lakes in Missouri and Illinois, allowing some of that water to flow into Mississippi tributaries.

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