No Barge Traffic on Missouri River This Season - Operators say 'no feasible' to carry cargoes for farmers because of agency recommendation
The decision was based on a December 2003 announcement that U.S. Fish & Wildlife biologists recommended raising spring flows and reducing summer water flows in the Missouri to accommodate endangered species.
However, in February, the U. S. Corps of Engineers rejected the flow changes but, in its place, called for leaving more water in upstream reservoirs during drought situations.
The change of plans came too late for Sioux City, Iowa terminals. In order for the barges to deliver the seed and fertilizer by April, they would have needed to leave the Gulf of Mexico in February and "[n]othing has happened," said Kevin Knepper, manager of the Big Soo Terminal.
"Therefore, we have lost our spring and the most profitable season." The agricultural economy will be severely impacted because in a normal spring 50 to 60 barges bring fertilizer for planting and haul grain to downstream markets.
Barge operators are not even sure they will be able to get as far as Kansas City, this summer, if so Omaha will not be getting any barge service either, thanks to government meddling in commerce.
River questions mean no barge traffic this year
Sioux City, Missouri - For the first time since navigation began on the Missouri River in the early 1960s, Sioux City faces a season without barge traffic.
Citing uncertanity over low flows and the government's management of the Missouri, the two towing companies serving Sioux City have both said they do not plan to come this far up the river this year, said Doug Palmer, president of Tegra Corp., which owns the Big Soo Terminal.
"We're disappointed," Palmer said. "It will make for a challenging year, but we have rail and truck that will still continue to supply us product, but certainly not as economical as barge traffic."
The tow boat firms -- Memco Barge Co. of St. Louis and Blaske Marine Inc. of Alton, Ill. -- reacted to recommendations last December by government biologists aimed at protecting endangered wildlife. The scientists called for a spring rise and more shallow summer waters, which barge interests said would have resulted in a split navigation season and sharply reduced traffic.
On Friday, the U.S. Corps of Engineers released a management plan that rejects the flow change recommendations, but calls for keeping more water in upstream reservoirs during droughts. Instead of the changes sought by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the corps proposed increasing efforts to build more shallow-water habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon.
Even if the waters remain consistently high this season, the corps' new plan likely comes too late for navigation in Sioux City. For the first barges to get here in April, they typically must leave the Gulf of Mexico by at least February, and the staging area in St. Louis by March, Palmer said.
"Nothing has happened,'' said Kevin Knepper, manager of the Big Soo Terminal. "Therefore, we have lost our spring and the most profitable season. It's just too late to get up and running and make any money.''
If the towing firms immediately changed their minds, the earliest that barges could arrive in Sioux City likely would be mid-June, Palmer said.
In a normal spring, 50 to 60 barges loaded with fertilizer for spring planting, arrive at the Big Soo Terminal. That's roughly half the barges the terminal handles for the year. "The spring time is our Christmas time,'' Knepper said.
Palmer said the loss of barge navigation would fall most heavily on the agricultural economy. In addition to bringing in fertilizer in the spring, barges haul some grain to downstream markets.
At the Big Soo Terminal, rail lines will be asked to pick up much of the barge shipments, Knepper said.
"Losing one of your modes of transportation will create some logistics problems during the peak fertizlier season, and we're concerned the rail industry will not be able to service the additional tonnage that we're going to need to move this spring,'' he said.
The towing companies have said they will be lucky to get as far upstream as Kansas City this season, Knepper said. That means Omaha also will lose its barge service. Even though it's farther upstream, Sioux City traditionally has shipped more by barge than Omaha, Knepper said.
Dave Dreeszen can be reached at (712) 293-4211 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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