ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)-- There was big news Wednesday night regarding barge traffic on the drought-stricken Mississippi River through St. Louis and points south.
Experts told Fox 2 there would be no river shutdown for at least a month.
Barge and tow operators had predicted the river could be too low for traffic as early as this week, putting an estimated 3,000 river-related jobs in Missouri at risk.
Wednesday night, but the US Army Corp of Engineers and the US Coast Guard reported they were winning the battle of the Mississippi.
'We`re still open, still open to traffic,' smiled Capt. Steve Teschendorf, Deputy Sector Commander for the US Coast Guard in St. Louis.
From the Coast Guard`s view of things, the river will be staying open; in spite of a river stage of lower than -4 feet, when it`s typically +10 or higher, every single barge is getting through.
'Over the last couple of weeks 470 vessels and their barges have gotten through safely, that equates to roughly 500,000 semi trucks,' Capt. Teschenford said.
The Army Corps of Engineers` removal of about 890 cubic yards of limestone from the critically low waters near Thebes, Illinois, about 130 miles South of St. Louis, has proven to be a 'rock' smashing success; making the channel 2 feet deeper; with the work scheduled to be finished in 2-3 weeks.
'[We`re using]mechanical means, which is large track hoes, large jackhammers or hydro hammers to break up the rock and then remove it. Then drilling and blasting,' said Col. Chris Hall of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
'We feel very confident we can maintain our 9 foot navigation channel, 9 ft. Deep, 300 ft. wide, through the next month,' Col. Hall said.
The Corps and the Guard credit the river industry for directing the effort - making it so precise. Barge and tow operators have long memories; trouble spots from the last great drought in 1988, still fresh.
'If we were in the same conditions now, 30 years ago, we`d be running into problems much, much, sooner,' Col. Hall said.
The rock removal does stop traffic for 16 hours every day. But the Coast Guard, the river`s `traffic cop`, unclogs the jam overnight.
'During the time that the Army Corps contractors are removing rock, which is roughly 6:00am - 10:00pm at night, we gather up all the vessels that are waiting north and south,' Capt. Teschenford said. 'They actually do a quick survey of the area where rocks were removed and we open it up. '
Two dredging operations were also running , 'round-the-clock' between St. Louis and the Ohio River confluence in Cairo, IL.
Col. Hall would not say how much this effort was costing. He said the current budget was flexible enough to cover the expense; the effort should keep things moving until river levels go up, typical as Spring approaches, bringing more rain plus melting ice and snow.
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