SEMO Port board says annual harbor dredging too expensive without federal help

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
An aerial view of the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority located on the Mississippi River. (Laura Simon)

The Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority board says if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn't dredge its harbor this year, it can't afford to pay the estimated $250,000 cost itself.

In previous years, the Corps of Engineers has dredged the port's harbor, but the corps said earlier this year it is no longer required to dredge the SEMO Port because the port no longer ships out 1 million tons per year. The port's annual tonnage has dropped to about 850,000 tons since SEMO Milling opened a few years ago at the port's facility. It uses corn that previously would have been shipped out.

According to port authority board finance chairman John Thompson, the port doesn't have money to pay for dredging because matches are required for several grant-funded capital improvement projects.

This year the Port Authority has received grants from the Missouri Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Economic Development Administration totaling $1.9 million. The grants require local matches of 20 to 25 percent.

While the port's current bank balance was reported as $980,381, a total of $866,248 is committed to capital improvement projects, Mandi Brink, manager of finance and administration at the Port, told the board at its monthly meeting Monday.

Upgrades planned at the port include constructing an access road to a railroad bridge over the Diversion Channel, building new railroad track between Route AB and the Diversion Channel, repairing existing track and stabilizing embankments.

Port Authority chairman Kent Puchbauer told the board that despite talks with the Corps of Engineers' St. Louis office, and staff for Rep. Jo Ann Emmerson and Sen. Kit Bond, it is still uncertain whether the harbor will be dredged to allow for continued barge traffic in low water.

In the past, the port has been dredged by the Corps of Engineers over the Labor Day weekend, which is seven weeks away.

The Mississippi River has remained high throughout the summer, which means shipping has continued smoothly. The river is currently at 37 feet in Cape Girardeau, 5 feet above flood stage.

However, high waters deposit more sand into the port's harbor area, making dredging more necessary, Puchbauer said. "The real concern is if we don't do anything and the water levels drop this winter," he said. "We could be shut down for some time, and we'd be in a world of hurt for several months."

Dredge boats cannot operate in the winter, he added.

About 20 percent of the corn and soybeans grown in Southeast Missouri are shipped out through the port, said executive director Dan Overbey.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent Address:

10 Bill Bess Drive, Scott City, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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