A publication of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association.
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August 2016 
Don't know what you got?    

     Farmers in Arkansas might well be remembering an old 1980s rock and roll song by Cinderella that says, “Don't know what you got till it's gone.”
     In February the last three ports on the White River were closed because the channel is no longer navigable after a 2011 flood heavily silted the river. There are currently no federal funds available for dredging.
     Arkansas Waterways Commissioner Harvey Joe Sanner recently told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "That transportation artery over the years has amounted to millions of dollars of savings to the farm community along the White River Basin.  We're going to feel that hurt at a time that no one needs to feel any more hurt in this part of Arkansas."
     The paper says, “For the coming harvest season, without the competitive edge provided by shipping on the river, many farmers likely will have to contract with trucking companies to haul their yields to facilities in West Memphis, Pine Bluff or North Little Rock. Aside from the additional cost, the shift to trucking will increase tractor-trailer traffic.”
     A recent report on a LaCrosse, Wis., television station made a similar point: “The Mighty Mississippi. It's frequented by commercial and recreational boats alike, but if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn't dredge the river, traffic would come to a halt.”
     The report went on to tell about the work being done by the Dredge Goetz at Reads Landing to move material that’s come mostly from the Chippewa River.

Just how big are those new Post-Panamax vessels?  This Corps of Engineers graphic gives you a size comparison.  If you'd like more information on what's being done to accomodate these giants, the Corps has prepared a summary report called, " U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization: Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels."
First and largest superhighway 

   A recent article in the Vicskburg Post talks about something river people have known for years. The paper says the river is an under-utilized economic asset that seems to attract attention only when it causes problems.
     “…when people talk about the nation’s primary river system, they discuss its effect on the nation’s history and the floods that spilled over its banks, putting thousands and millions of acres of homes and farmlands under water. They talk about the era of the flatboats and the steamboats that plied the river shipping goods north and south for consumers of factories.
     They don’t discuss why the nation’s first and largest super highway remains underutilized by companies moving goods from a northern factory south.”
     But the economic evidence of the river system’s importance isn’t hard to find.  And as this publication and others have documented over the years, water transportation remains the most environmentally and economically friendly transportation mode.
     The latest confirmation comes in an Illinois Chamber of Commerce Foundation report that says waterways in that state support more than 1.7 million jobs and $102.5 billion in wages.
     “Commercial navigation and our inland waterways are unsung assets of our transportation networks. This report identifies not only that they are a significant source of employment for Illinoisans across the state with over $102 billion in annual wages but that with additional investment, these benefits can grow,” according to Benjamin Brockschmidt, executive director of the Infrastructure Council of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
     The report is titled An Economic Impact and Cluster Analysis of Illinois River Lock and Dam Facilities for Beneficial Users.  It was authored by the Economic Development Research Group, working with the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee.
From the Executive Director...

     The Mississippi River Commission, or MRC, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hosted a public hearing aboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi, at Lambert’s Landing in St. Paul, Minnesota, Aug. 8 from 8 to 11 a.m. as the initial stop on their 2016 low-water inspection tour.

     At the hearings, the public is given an opportunity to comment on the Corps’ work on the Upper Mississippi River. Agencies, local organizations and individuals are strongly encouraged to make presentations or offer views or comments on any issues affecting Corps programs or projects.
     Under the direction of the president of the United States, the MRC recommends policy and work programs for the six U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts within the Mississippi Valley Division. These districts include the St. Paul, Rock Island, St. Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg and New Orleans districts. The Corps uses the MV Mississippi to host public meetings aboard the vessel. When not in use for public meetings, the Corps uses the vessel to move barges in support of bank stabilization work on the Mississippi River.

Here is UMWA President Paul Freeman's statement to the Commission:

"General Wehr, members of the Mississippi River Commission and guests.  Once again our Association is pleased to be a part of your annual low-water inspection tour.  We are here to offer comments on a few select issues.

Closure of lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls
     The closure of the lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls in the fading minutes of June 9, 2015 ended five decades of service to the city of Minneapolis:  building its economic base while sustaining its environmental health.  The volume of freight to and from the upper falls ranged from a high of just over 3 million tons in the 1970s to just over a half-million tons in 2014, the last year of a full-season operation.
     While the half million tons of recent years may not be enough to qualify for minimum lock tonnage, it nevertheless kept 22,900 loaded trucks off city streets and Interstate systems; keeping the city’s air cleaner and reducing drive-time congestion and frustration.  This should not come as a surprise, as a regional governmental policy-making body estimated in a 2012 economic assessment that thousands of additional trucks would be added to the flow of commercial traffic during the customary 8.5 month barge shipping season.
      But suddenly that doesn’t seem to matter any longer as Minneapolis looks forward to developing once-river-dependent industry property from economic engines to “amenities”.  While this has unleashed a positive wave of emotions and brought about vague political predictions, the media has so far focused on popular reactions and favorable market response.  In our opinion, however, this is just the opening chapter of a story that will take time to unfold as WRRDA 2014 did not direct further disposition of the lock. The St. Paul District website states that while an initial appraisal report was completed in October 2015, it recommended further study.  
     With regards to the possible further study, here are several issues that came up frequently in casual conversations while the issue of lock closure was making its way through Congress:  1) Would it be too strong to suggest that the instigator of closure, the City of Minneapolis, be “forced” to take ownership of the locks and access points, so that Corps dollars could be directed to critical projects elsewhere?  2) And secondly, favorable consideration must be given to the continued dredging of Pool 1 so that marketable dredge material doesn’t add to already serious sediment problems in Pool 2.
     We await with interest a report of the mentioned study on the future disposition or beneficial use of the USAF site.

Dredge Disposal Sites
     Management of dredge disposal sites is a continuing challenge as swollen rivers and tributaries push sometimes unmanageable amounts of bank erosions downstream into the main channel where it becomes a larger problem once pool levels return.  We are told that, in general, the number of temporary sites is sufficient; however the acquisition of more long-term permanent sites would alleviate the expense of double-handling from temporary sites. 
     While we do not have measurement statistics, recent rainfall in the northern tier of Midwestern states varied from spotty to many inches over a short period of time.  This resulted in Mississippi River tributaries dumping large amounts of sediment into the locked portions of the river that is heavily prone to shoaling, thereby increasing the grounding potential of commercial tows.  At the same time, recent heavy rains falling in the St. Louis area and the Ohio River watershed, added increased volumes of water and sediment to the open section of the Mississippi River limiting the passing zones for line-haul tows.
The Upper Mississippi Waterway Association encourages your Commission to continue supporting the Corps’ long term program of handling dredge material in the least costly and environmentally acceptable manner.

Pool 2 Déjà vu
     When your Commission last visited St. Paul in 2013, we made several observations on Pool 2 which suggested might best be described as a microcosm of how things can go wrong on the Upper Mississippi River:  too much water, too much protection and too little money.
     With regards to too much water:  due largely to a 70% increase in flow from the Minnesota River due to increase in urban streets, roof-tops and other hardscape features, surges of water into the Minnesota River causes banks to erode, sending more water into the river than into the ground.  With water comes silt, upwards to a semi-load of dirt to Pool 2 every 12 minutes, year after year.  This causes an estimated 1 million tons of silt to rush through St. Paul and onwards into southern Pool 2 and Lake Pepin.  This is bad for fish and bad for barges.
     Regarding too much protection:  ironically, one reason Pool 2 is ignored is that federal legislation protects the Mississippi River through language contained in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area legislation.  The building of roads, homes and businesses is strictly limited.  This laps of attention means that relatively few people care about the river; it could become a swamp and no one would lobby to help.  By contrast, the Lake Pepin area of the Mississippi is not within MNRRA jurisdiction.  Consequently it is lined with scenic highways, marinas and homes, and is active with commercial vessels, power boats canoes and sailboats.  Which means thousands use it and protest if it is being damaged.
     Regarding too little money:  funding and other issues relating to this mission are suffering from project inertia as federal and state agencies grapple with economic, political and other considerations.
     Unfortunately, Commission members will not be on board this afternoon as the MV Mississippi heads downstream through Pool 2 to continue the low-water inspection tour and to facilitate discussion of a proposed channel realignment study.  We say “unfortunately” because while some of the natural elements mentioned in our 2013 presentation are still challenging, the leadership provided by local businesses, property owners and recreational interests has increased public awareness of the river’s value to the economy and to the environment.
     We thank you for this opportunity to share our comments with your Commission."

Other items of interest...
  • Even though America’s river infrastructure is outdated and underfunded, it is of interest to other countries with little or no transportation base.  India’s Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkar last month toured the Mississippi River and its locks and dams to gather ideas for his country’s development efforts.                                                                                     
  • A recent Memorandum of Understanding has been signed by the Corps of Engineers (COE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  The two agencies propose more development of hydropower at COE locks and dams.  The memo is aimed at cutting red tape holding back development.                                                                                                 
  • A recent story in Forbes magazine says the biggest obstacle standing in the way of increased hydropower is, “the complicated and capricious regulatory and licensing processes. Just as with nuclear, this uncertainty increases costs and can even kill projects halfway through the process, making them unattractive to investors.”                                                   
  • During its first month of operation, three ships have hit lock walls during transits of the new canal sections.  At least one of the incidents resulted in substantial damage to the ship.  In last month’s Waterways newsletter, the Executive Director’s column detailed a New York Times piece and concerns by canal pilots responsible for guiding the big ships.                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • Although the decision hasn’t been finalized, the Portsmouth, N.H., City Council recently voted for the use of barges as a way of reducing truck traffic through the city’s historic downtown.  Portsmouth is building a new wastewater plant and the only land route to the site is through the city.                                                                                                                         
  • A study group from the U of North Carolina, Wilmington, says one way for smaller ports to deal with post-Panamax vessels is barges used as lighters.  The group says barges have flat bottoms and shallower drafts and could be a link between ports and the mega-ships.
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