Annual inspection of Mississippi River taking place in midst of record drought

CARUTHERSVILLE, MO (KAIT) - Since 1879, the Mississippi River Commission has been charged with maintaining and promoting the "Ole Miss."

Water levels on the river are at near record lows causing trouble up and down the river. Currently the river is closed at Greenville, Mississippi while the Coast Guard re-buoys' and a plan is formed for dredging. According to a Coast Guard press release, 97 vessels both north and south bound are currently being held with no definite re-opening announced.

This hold puts a huge cost on both the shipper and the owners of the tows and according to David Madison with the Pemiscott County Port Authority, those costs have to be made up somewhere.

"It's an economic burden on the entire agency." Madison said as we stood along the rail of the towboat Mississippi. In the back ground a tow headed south. Madison went on. "In this case of course, the entire end costs come to the shippers and that's the local farmers."

On the normally busy river; Smaller than normal tows are moving only down-river. The Motor Vessel Mississippi, the largest towboat in the world was the location for the second of 5 public meetings for the Mississippi River commission's low-water tour.

The commission is made up of 3 Corp of Engineer officers, 1 Coast Guard officer and 3 civilians, two of which are civil engineers.

Commission President, Major General John Peabody said things are not really good anywhere on the river.

"The potential for the worst being in front of us is very very clear." Peabody said, "And that worst period could well go into October or November as you all know."

Peabody says there are currently 4 ports closed on the river. He put up a slide showing ports and a bar indicating the level of water. Only two were green, a few were yellow and those listed in red were getting close to critical including the port at Caruthersville.

Most of Caruthersville's main port is in a backwater off the river. What's happening is that barges are being half-filled. Then they are sent further on down the Mississippi where they can be completely filled before heading down to the gulf.

One of the Commissions priorities is receiving input about river usage including the ports. Missouri Congresswoman JoAnn Emerson addressed the board about the importance of keeping smaller ports dredged out.

"Like the large ones" she says,"like Memphis or New Orleans because we ship so much grain up and down the river."

Emerson has 3 ports in her district, Cape Girardeau, New Madrid and Caruthersville.

"It's always a big fight with the office of Management and Budget." Emerson said. "To get them to understand that our smaller inland ports require dredging just like the large ones. We ship a lot of grain up and down this river."

Across from one of the docks up the channel, rapidly dropping water left a set of barges high and dry on the sand. Madison said the dredge will come but it could use some help.

"It will help us for some foreseeable time but the real help will come in the form of more water coming down the river." He said.

The next meeting in our area will be held on August 21 in Memphis.

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