Barge pilots concerned over Mississippi River structures

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.(AP) — Some of the pilots who steer barges on the Mississippi River have expressed concern over a government plan to add additional underwater structures meant to reduce sediment and the need for dredging, saying they think it will cut into the barge companies’ profits.

About a dozen people, most of them river pilots, attended a public environmental assessment meeting about the plan in Cape Girardeau on Thursday hosted by the Army Corps of Engineers. The corps plans to lay large piles of stones on the river bottom in various configurations that would use the force of the river to move sediment out of the navigation channel.

Pilots who were at the meeting expressed concern about how the structures would affect the river’s flow, and some said they’d like to see a study on how much the current’s velocity has changed as a result of such structures already in place.

“We’re having to use more horsepower on our boats to push the same amount of barges, which impacts our bottom line because it takes more fuel and our timing is increased,” said Harold Dodd, director of river operations for American Commercial Lines in Cairo, Ill.

Dodd, who transports coal by barge from near St. Louis to New Rose, La., said he has seen the river’s flow change during his four decades on the river, the result of the structures.

“We’re concerned about how many more they’re going to put in the river because we’re kind of running out of places to put them,” Dodd said.

This year, the corps plans to install underwater dikes called weirs about three miles north of Buffalo Island in Mississippi County, Mo., project manager Jasen Brown said. The corps also plans to build up the river’s edge with rock, called a bank revetment, at the St. Louis Harbor, near the convergence with the Missouri River.

A Government Accountability Office audit completed in December indicated that some researchers believe river structures unintentionally cause large volumes of water to back up in the river, increasing the height of floodwaters. Corps officials disagree, but will look into it, corps spokesman Mike Petesen said.

The corps is seeking public input on the structures’ effect on flooding, wildlife, river navigation and recreational boating as part of the environmental assessment process scheduled to be completed in November.

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