Flooding gets barge season off to a slow start

Published 4:12 pm Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The barge season on the Mississippi River is bouncing back after getting off to a slow start because of flooding.

P.B. Shah, an executive with Ingram Barge Co. of Nashville, Tenn., predicted the industry will be back to full operation by midweek. That’s about 10 days late.

He said lock closures have hurt the industry.

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Three locks in the Hannibal region — at Canton, Quincy and Saverton — were shut down for up to 10 days, but reopened last week after flooding receded.

Locks at Clarksville and Winfield never closed. High water prevents a lock’s gates from opening and closing.

At any one time, more than 400 barges operate on the Upper Mississippi, the nation’s most important commercial waterway. So, the closures were significant for financial markets. Export demand for grain has been slow and freight costs are rising, although the increases have more to do with rising fuel costs than with flooding.

At least 40 towboats and their loads didn’t reach destinations before the river was shut down to traffic, forcing them to tie up and wait for water levels to drop.

Shah said many companies didn’t have viable alternatives for shipping products.