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Mo. governor, barge industry urge action on rivers

Associated Press Modified: November 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm •  Published: November 12, 2012

To compensate, barge companies now are required to carry lighter loads, costing them more per ton to move cargo but also reducing chances of running aground as crews hustle to dredge silt and other sediments from the river to clear passages. One estimate put barge industry losses at $1 billion the last time the Mississippi was this low, in 1988. But barge company executive P.B. Shaw said that conditions had improved by November of that year.

"Right now, that doesn't appear to be the case," said Shaw, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based Ingram Barge Co. After months of logistical headaches forced by the drought, "I'm kind of numb. That's a little exaggeration, but its' been a real tough year" showing no signs of easing, with climatologists broadly expecting the drought to carry into 2013.

The waterways association said the reduction in releases on the Missouri would have particular impact on the Mississippi River from St. Louis south to Cairo, Ill., the area between where the Missouri and Ohio rivers merge into the Mississippi. Association officials cite concern about rock formations near Thebes, Ill., and Grand Tower, Ill., that would threaten to stop barge traffic by around Dec. 10 if water levels drop as much as anticipated.

"The Mississippi River is an economic superhighway that efficiently carries hundreds of millions of tons of essential goods for domestic use as well as national export. We need to address this situation swiftly, cut through bureaucratic red tape, and prevent the closure of the Mississippi," said Tom Allegretti, the American Waterway Operators' president and CEO.

Allegretti's trade group said barges on those corridors carry 20 percent of the country's coal and more than 60 percent of its grain exports. A mix of other cargo — everything from petroleum products to lumber, sand, industrial chemicals and fertilizer — also gets shipped by river.

Because of the drought, the Mississippi has received as much as 78 percent of its water from the Missouri this year, compared with 60 percent in a normal year, according to Nixon's office.

"I know that alternative measures are being considered to maintain the Mississippi channel, including dredging and clearing of rock pinnacles along the river," Nixon wrote. "I urge you to fast-track and fully implement those efforts."