UMWA Navigates into 91st Year
By Russ Eichman
The Upper Mississippi Waterway Association (UMWA) recently celebrated its 90th Annual Dinner at the Southview Country Club in West St. Paul Minnesota.
As our editor, Mark Johnson, noted on the cover page of UMWA’s September news-letter, UMWA’s landmark annual meeting was held just a few weeks before another American transportation icon marks its 90th. But while the famous U.S. Route 66 has been replaced by superhighways, the river infrastructure that UMWA members (and others) depend on hasn’t changed much since it was first built in the 1930s.
It is interesting to note that while the Mississippi River has been a lifeline in the Midwest since before our nation was founded, it took over 200 years for non-Natives to explore and map the area. One of the manifestations of that growth was a 1925 start-up in the Twin Cities of the Upper Mississippi Barge Line which built steamships and barges to operate on the early river system. As river commerce increased, local interests in 1927 sent letters to our nation’s capitol urging the improvement of river navigation, which was supported by Presidents Coolidge and later Hoover and Roosevelt, all visionary leaders at a time of economic turbulence and uncertainty.
Nine-channel approved 1929
Curiously, in 1928, the commander of the then-named Rock Island Corps of Engineers determined that a 9-foot channel would not be cost effective, only to be overruled in 1929 by the Board of Engineers of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In a survey ordered by the Board of Engineers, the job of converting the Upper Mississippi from a 6-foot to a 9-foot channel with locks from St. Paul to St. Louis was estimated to cost $1.35 billion in today’s dollars. That study was followed in 1930 by the Rivers and Harbors Act which authorized and funded the 9-foot navigation project for the Upper Mississippi River.
More interesting history can be found in our September newsletter including how the forerunner of today’s Deere & Company found that shipping farm implements east from Iowa to the Atlantic coast, then vessel through the Panama Canal to California destinations was the only way to compete with its Atlantic coast competitors. Even while not fully competitive, the round-about route to ship east to reach Western destinations was still some 31 percent less than the direct all-rail rate from Iowa to California.
St. Croix bridge 'very special'
The guest speaker at our September annual dinner was Todd Clarkowski, P.E., St. Croix Crossing Project Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Transportation. While a bridge over a river is commonplace and nothing special, the bridge being constructed over the Lower St. Croix River is very special, because it spans water which is part of the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Program established in 1968.
While the last tow of barges hauling coal to a major electric-generating plant ended years ago, and grain transfer terminals on the Minnesota side of the river have long-since disappeared, remnants of commercial navigation were a major mitigation issue during permitting negotiations. For example, the barge unloading infrastructure at the generating plant has a mitigation cost of $1.5 million. This is in addition to $4.5 million for blufflands damage, $1.2 million for wetland mitigation and $3 million for a loop trail, with a total estimated cost of $625 million - $646 million of which mitigation costs are just under 8 percent of the total. All this to build a bridge that started with a cost of under $400 million. But at least everyone’s happy.
Officers and Directors elected for the CY 2017-2018 cycle are:
(*) indicates members of the Executive Committee
*Greg Genz, Kaposia Marine – Chair, Board of Directors
*Taylor Luke, LS Marine – President
*Doug Hosszu, Upper River Services – Vice President
*Scott Dohmen, CF Industries – Secretary
*Kathryn Sarnecki, St. Paul Port Authority – Treasurer
Mark Caspers, CCI – Director
Al Christopherson, Producer – Director
Greg Genz, Kaposia Marine – Director
Jack Holm, LafargeHolcim – Director
David Johnson, Tow Inc – Director
Mike Noonan, Portable Barge Service Inc – Director
Tim Paurus, CHS Inc – Director
Tom Perrier, N.C. States Regional Council of Carpenters – Director
Rick Voigt, Voigt Consultants – Director
Mike Wilson, Wilson Oil & Gas Company – Director
(Above) This MNDOT picture shows the final barge-load of St. Croix River Bridge segments which were towed to the project at the end of September from the casting yard in Cottage Grove, MN. All 650 segments are now in place and closure pours have begun.
Remember that throughout the Waterways newsletter you'll find highlighted links in blue which take you to more information.
From the Executive Director . . .
Illinois study redefines waterway beneficiaries
In its third study over a seven year period, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce once again confirmed the value and significance of the Illinois River system. The Chamber’s newest report found that Illinois waterways support more than 1.7 million jobs and $102 billion in wages across 22 counties that benefit from the waterway, representing approximately 47 percent of all employment in the study.
Problems on Illinois waterways mirror those on the entire Upper Mississippi: deferred maintenance and shortage of federal funding have made an already outdated system unreliable. While the 45% increase in the amount contributed by the waterway industry to the Inland Waterways Trust Fund starting in 2014 has supported increased federal appropriations, the severity of the problem has been reduced but maintenance backlog continues to be challenging.
These findings are in a report prepared by the Economic Development Research Group, Inc, in association with the Center for Transportation Research, University of Tennessee.
Unlike the first two, this study explored areas well beyond the footprint of its predecessors: It identified a greater array of non-navigation beneficiaries “who could potentially contribute towards funding the improvements to the system from which they benefit” and it developed a list of five improvement options, each with projected cost savings to users of the system.
An uncommon feature of this study, however, is that after listing potential contributors and improvement options it warned “Where the funding could come from is an open question not resolved by this study”.
Nonetheless, the report went on to identify the major commodities transported on the Illinois waterways: aggregates, chemicals, coal/coke, grains, iron/steel and petroleum fuels, and recited the customary list of navigation users: Manufacturing, agriculture, energy utilities and mining. An unexpected addition, however, included the respective customers, supply chain partners and workers of the listed industries. The performance of the overall surface transport infrastructure was also listed as a beneficiary, as surface roads and rail lines would be inundated if forced to haul the 24 million tons of freight currently moving on the Illinois River system.
The report included other businesses and workers who depend on the waterway for reasons beyond flood control and navigation uses including system water use by power plant cooling, municipal water systems, wildlife habitat preservation and recreational users. Also listed as non-navigation beneficiaries were government organizations including the military, surface transportation modes, and material handling and terminal operations. Just over 111,000 establishments were identified totaling 1.7 million jobs.
The above 1.7 million jobs fall into 11 categories with health care, retail trade and ‘others’ totaling 58% of employment studied. The remaining 42% include waiters, bartenders, doctors, lawyers, teachers, insurance brokers, artists, and hotel staff. The report strongly implied that all navigation and non-navigation who benefit from the system should contribute to funding its improvement. Good luck on trying to establish a credible argument that would convince minimum-wage workers including waiters, bartenders and hotel staff to contribute to maintenance of a lock and dam they may not even be aware of.
While the source of new funding is not resolved by this study, cost savings have been – enhancements range from $51.56 million to $137.97 million, depending upon option.
- Option A - The lowest cost savings are projected to build a 1,200’ lock at La Grange, at the southern end of the Illinois River; $51.6 million.
- Option B - More cost savings would result in the construction of 1,200 foot locks at La Grange and Peoria (both at the southern end); $53.8 million.
- Option C - Still more savings would result in rehabilitation of locks along the river instead of upgrades; $54.3 million.
- Option D - Cost savings of $94.5 million would result in a new 1,200’ lock at La Grange plus lock rehabilitation.
- Option E - The greatest savings of $137.9 million would result in new locks at La Grange and Peoria plus rehabilitation.
Tom Mueller of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board said the economic information gleaned from the study shows the “importance of our inland waterway transportation system to Illinois and surrounding states and will prove to be invaluable as we continue to advocate for future investments.”
The four states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri, which were not included in the Illinois study, had a combined waterway tonnage of 128.1 million tons with a collective commodity value of $23.41 billion (WCI, COE 2014). It would be interesting to know what an Illinois Chamber of Commerce-type study would reveal for the entire Upper Mississippi River valley.
The complete Illinois report can be found by clicking on this link.
Disclaimer: Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.
Other items of interest...
* A recent St. Pioneer Press editorial talks about the importance of the Mississippi River to the city and Midwest and says, “We are dependent on more locks and dams than others.” The title of the editorial is “Our working river, keep it in working order." Upper River Services President Lee Nelson told the paper, that all 26 locks between St. Paul and the open river are important. “Every one of those 26 is of equal importance to us here in St. Paul. If any one of them fails, whether it’s the one farthest away or the one closest to us, “we’re shut off.”
* J.F. Brennan & Company is the 2016 recipient of the Western Dredging Association’s Safety Award. The honor is in recognition of Brennan’s McMillan Island Unloading project which included 7,300 man-hours with no lost-time accidents or injuries. The project removed 151,652 cubic yards of material from a site north of Lock and Dam 10 and placed it in a beneficial use area.
* Inland waterways get very little of the Total Transportation Infrastructure investment in the U.S. A recent article and graph published by AgriPulse Communications shows that spending for water transportation receives the smallest slice of the spending pie detailed in the chart and the waterborne segment is almost invisible without enlarging the chart.
* Even long-time river rats may not realize how much of the country is drained by the Mississippi River. A new National Geographic map progressively shows the Mississippi drains an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains, or nearly 40% of the U.S.
* And National Geographic has also launched a new website that spotlights cities, businesses and attractions along the river. It’s taken more than two years to plan and construct the website.
* The cruise business continues to build on the Mississippi River. The American Queen Steamboat Compny says it will add the 166 passenger American Duchess next June.