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Illinois Conservative Politics

Restricted water flow stops Mississippi barge traffic
Wednesday, September 03, 2003
By The Leader -- Southern Illinois Bureau

Barging has been grounded along downstate Mississippi, as a result of upriver Missouri River's endangered birds and fish.

ST. LOUIS -- Water flows once cut due to a court order by federal judge Paul Magnuson of the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota were scheduled to resume on September 1 to flow into the Missouri River once again.

The endangered birds the cutting of the water flow was to protect have already flown south for the winter.

The judge’s ruling, which favored endangered species over the U.S. Corps of Engineers, left barges stranded not only on the Missouri River but also the Mississippi River, slowing down Illinois exports.

The conservationists’ lawsuit, along with five others, was combined by the Judicial Panel for Multidistrict Litigation and then transferred to Judge Magnuson on July 24th.

"Judge Magnuson’s ruling affirms what we have said all along -- that the Corps is illegally pushing the narrow agenda of the barging industry at the expense of endangered wildlife," said John Kostyack, senior counsel at National Wildlife Federation.

Two endangered bird species and an endangered fish shut down navigation for several weeks not only on the Missouri River, but also the Mississippi River whichs depends on 65% of its flow to come from the Missouri River. The reduced flow added to dry weather conditions brought a screeching halt to barge traffic on the most important river in the Midwest.

In last week’s trip to St. Louis, President George W. Bush said he shared Missouri’s U.S. Senator Kit Bond's opposition to the judge's ruling that has restricted upstream releases of water on the Missouri River, which Bond said was threatening water supplies in Missouri towns as well as shutting down barge traffic.

Cutting back on the flow of the Missouri River is hurting Illinois economy as well.

Barges that normally travel the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers transporting Illinois products have been grounded on the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Cairo, just north of where the Mississippi converges with the Ohio River.

Environmentalists' claims that the nesting on sandbars of the Least Tern and the Piping Plover birds along with the Pallid Sturgeon fish would be harmed if the flow was not restricted. In the past, the nests were moved from the sandbars and both birds and navigation prospered.

Don Huffman, spokesperson for the MEMCO Barge Lines located in St. Louis, MO, said the U. S. Corps of Engineers had indicated the migratory birds left the sandbars by August 21, but water levels would not begin to be restored by opening the water flow on the Missouri River until Sept. 1.

"I am also concerned about the environment, but cutting the flow does nothing for the birds that have already gone and it hurts the economy. Most people don’t understand the value of the navigation that we have here in the Midwest and the necessity of reliable flows." said Huffman.

The barge industry suffers approximately $500,000 a day loss when they run at reduced efficiency but $1,000,000 a day when the rivers are completely closed to navigation.

"This loss will eventually find its way to the consumer," Huffman said. "The Mississippi River is the backbone of the Midwest economy."

MEMCO has 40 tows and 2400 barges, represent just one of dozens of barge lines that depend on the rivers to move tons of cargo. Presently MEMCO has a large number of barges that have been stuck for a couple of months in Kansas City, Omaha and Brunswick that cannot travel the Missouri River on their way to the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River is the major artery that divides the United States. Numerous warehouses and grain storage facilities line the western and southern borders of Illinois where Illinois products are shipped to a global market contributing to the economy of the state as a whole. Coal destined for power plants, steel for the steel mills in Chicago, as well as food and fertilizer products are all on hold until river levels rise to a navigatible level for barges.

The consumer will feel the rippling effects from the cost of electricity to the cost of a box of cereal.


What are your thoughts on the issues raised in this story? Write a letter to the editor at letters@illinoisleader.com, and include your name and town.

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