OSCEOLA, AR (KAIT) - The Mississippi River port of Osceola is basically shut down for barge traffic until the river rises or a dredge can be brought in to open the channel.
Since the first of August, half-loaded barges have been sent out from the port. Now not even that is possible because the barges can't get out to what few tows are available.
Major General John Peabody spoke Monday in Caruthersville, Missouri to a public meeting held by the Mississippi River Commission. He painted a gloomy picture.
"The potential for the worst being in front of us is very, very clear. And that worse period could well go into October or November as you all know."
That doesn't help Osceola Port Manager Jeff Worsham solve his problems. First off there is the low water issue. During the May of 2011floods water reached nearly back a quarter mile to the levee flooding the port facilities. Just a little over a year later, there has been quite a drastic change.
Worsham and I stood on the main dock watching snakes and turtles swimming far below us. Worsham looked at the opposite bank where a sandy beach reached far from the shore.
"We're looking at from May of 2011 to now almost a 56 foot differential in the water levels." he said.
This dock barge below us was usually tied further up the back water where grass now grows. You could almost get vertigo looking down on the barge from the main dock at the port. From the shore you can see the complex set of steel pilings that hold the deck out of the water. A new conveyor belt is being installed. "Ironically." Worsham says with a grin. "It was designed to be used for higher water levels."
Looking down the channel toward the main river, you can see barges, some empty, some half full, sitting in the low water.
Worsham says there is another issue working against them.
"A lot of silt and sand from the flooding of 2011 is choking off the entrance to the port." Worsham says.
Osceola was passed over from dredging last year. Grass grows where a dredge worked in 2010. Worsham said their turn for a dredge is still a month away and corn harvest has begun. About every 5 minutes a truck load of corn passed over the Consolidated grain and barge scales. Consolidated is a tenant at the port.
The conveyor that takes the corn right from a truck to a barge was being repaired; therefore the corn was being stored in two silos that only hold about 60 truckloads apiece.
Worsham said they are running low on storage both floating and non-floating. "We have some barges in the port that we are able to load but we can't get any barges in or out so once we are out of empty barges we will have to go to other options." What those options are haven't really been expressed. Drivers told me that they have been told to keep on bringing in the corn.
The barges they have are only being half filled and extensions have been added to the filling tubes just to get them down to barges. A half filled barge ran aground just outside the port and when you look up and down the river, nothing is moving.
The forecast is for the river to keep getting lower on into October. This ports main export is soybeans.
Worsham looked at his new conveyor belt. "The month of October is when we will start soybeans." He said, "That's our busy season. Truck to barge, we have just a very small amount of storage. We may have to use those long storage bags that farmers use."
And with most harvesting starting 2 to 3 weeks early, It could be a hard Fall at the port.