Corps to start dredging Miss. River at Vicksburg

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say they plan to start dredging the Port of Vicksburg Monday to help vessels deal with low water in the Mississippi River.

The Post reports (http://bit.ly/QcAh1M) that Tropical Storm Isaac provided a bit of relief from the ongoing drought, but the Mississippi River is slipping back toward negative stages. A drought across much of the nation has led to low water levels in the Mississippi this year and has caused problems for river businesses.

Marty Pope, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service office in Jackson, said river levels will oscillate in the coming weeks but remain low. Pope said rain in the upper reaches of the Mississippi River valley has helped, for now.

"Right now, luckily, we've continued to get rainfall through there. Over the last 14 days or so we've had some rainfall anywhere from an inch to 4 inches over the Ohio River Basin," he said.

Through the winter, the country will be entering an El Nino weather pattern, which means a wet winter across the South and an especially dry winter across the Ohio Valley, the weather service predicted.

"We're really going to need some good rains in the next couple of months before that sets up in that particular area," he said.

The corps' dredging will help the port, businesses said.

"They're fighting this battle so far and I think they're winning and doing a great job with their dredges and such," said Roger Harris senior vice president of operations for Magnolia Marine Transport Co., which is located at the Vicksburg port.

Magnolia Marine, which hauls crude oil and other petroleum products, has had to lighten the load of its barge tows by 15,000 pounds less per barge because of the low water, Harris said.

"It's hurting the bottom line and basically it's increasing the transportation cost of petroleum products, and that in turn is going to be passed down to the consumers," Harris said.

The shortfall has to be diverted by rail or truck, and it takes about 90 extra tractor-trailers to haul 15,000 gallons, Harris said.

"Those costs are much higher than ours," he said.

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