The Army Corps of Engineers says maintenance work will continue on the Mississippi River despite concerns from ag groups that travel restrictions will impede the transport of grains and other commodities to export destinations and end-users.
The Corps on Friday began the process of laying mats to protect the banks of the river between mile markers 632-625 near Memphis, maintenance work stemming from impacts of flooding three years ago.
Though the Corps said the work can only be done during times of low-water levels, usually between August and December, ag groups Friday said the work commenced with little warning to shippers.
Initially, the river was closed, though waiting barges were later allowed to traverse the area.
The Corps later successfully moved a northbound 24-barge test tow through the area, indicating that northbound traffic may pass through the area during daylight hours. Southbound commerce may also move on the river from dusk to dawn.
“We are committed to keeping the river open each day until the queue of barges passes the restricted area," Maj. Gen. Michael Wehr, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, said earlier this week. Approximately 77 tows, with each pushing an average of 15 barges, waited between 8 to 10 hours in the area through the weekend and into Monday.
According to a Corps statement, work is "proceeding well" in the narrowest reach of the restricted area and fewer restrictions may be in place as early as Nov. 17. One-way traffic is currently able to pass through the area, but the repairs are expected to allow two-way traffic to pass.
The Corps said it "will continue its frequent dialogue with industry representatives and Coast Guard officials to deliver the high value commercial artery, and to assess the situation."
Future decisions, the Corps said, will be based on the needs of commerce and river conditions so that river traffic will experience limited delays.
The National Corn Growers Association estimates that about 1 billion bushels of grain, or 60% of the bulk agricultural exports, are moved to world ports via the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.