A year after Mississippi River barge traffic nearly ground to a halt because of seriously low water levels, work has resumed to keep the river passable even under drought conditions.
And it's just in time as the river is headed to more than 3 feet below normal within the week.
According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Sue Casseau, work began Tuesday at Thebes to remove rock pinnacles that threaten barge traffic critical to agriculture and other industries.
"Contractors working for the Corps will remove approximately 2,800 cubic yards of rock as a permanent improvement to the navigation channel over the next few months, with options for additional removal in future years," Casseau said. "The rock removal project continues work begun last year when river levels dipped to near-record lows from St. Louis south to the Ohio River confluence."
According to the Corps, rocks are part of a large natural formation, most of which was removed in the late 1980s. With improvements in survey technology, the Corps discovered remaining outcroppings -- referred to as pinnacles -- along two stretches of the river near Grand Tower and Thebe. Last year the Corps removed approximately 1,000 cubic yards of rock.
Work began at Thebes last year when the water level neared historic lows. Traffic on the river was restricted because of low water conditions then. According to Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen, the work is easier to perform when water levels are low. While the job is being done river traffic is restricted to one-way traffic and tows are limited to 15 barges.
U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said a channel of 9 feet deep is needed to allow unrestricted barge traffic. The pinnacles at Thebes, where the bottom of the river is rock instead of mud and sand, make the depth less than it needs to be in spots.
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