Illinois Senators DIck Durbin and Mark Kirk are among a group of lawmakers who met Thursday with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to push the agency to do all it can to keep the Mississippi open for barge traffic.
"I called this meeting with the Army Corps to make certain we are doing all we can to keep traffic on the Mississippi River moving safely for as long as possible," Durbin said. "The first step is to fast-track removal of the rocks that are a barrier to traffic on the river. Second, at our request, the Army Corps agreed to report back in one week with an analysis of the impact that releasing water would have on both the Missouri River and the Mississippi - information which has yet to be provided. And finally, severe weather is becoming more frequent and more devastating to people's lives and our economy. Congress needs to take a hard look at how we plan for these disasters."
Rock formations at Thebes and Grand Tower represent the greatest threat to barges on the upper Mississippi according to barge operators. Water is low on the Mississippi because of drought conditions combined with the Corps of Engineer's annual policy of restricting water flow from the Missouri River to the Mississippi.
After a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Durbin (D-IL) Kirk (R-IL) announced that the Army Corps of Engineers will expedite the demolition of rock pinnacles that will help keep water and goods moving on the Mississippi River. Other senators attending the Thursday meeting were Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Because the Army Corps reiterated their position that they are not legally able to release water from the Missouri River, senators pushed for more information in an effort to make the case that releasing the water into the Mississippi River will not harm those upstream. They plan to formally request that the Army Corps provide an analysis of the impact of releasing water in quantities that are sufficient to sustain barge traffic on the Mississippi through April of next year.
"We simply cannot afford to have traffic on the Mississippi River stop due to low water levels," Senator Kirk said. "It's my hope that the Army Corps listens to the bipartisan calls of senators and governors and works swiftly to ensure commercial barge traffic is not threatened on this crucial transportation corridor."