(Fred Lynch) [Order this photo]
Last year 1,234,006 tons were shipped in or out of the port by barge, truck and rail car, according to Dan Overbey, executive director. That's a 9.1 percent increase over 2009 and a 13 percent increase from 2007.
Barge tonnage increased 7 percent from 815,587 tons in 2009 to 873,385 tons in 2010. Last year's barge tonnage is equal to nearly 35,000 semi trucks on the highway, Overbey said.
"River transportation is cheaper, safer, uses less fuel and creates less pollution," he said.
Half of the six businesses operating at the Port also set individual tonnage records in 2010, Overbey said. The six businesses are SEMO Milling, Girardeau Stevedores, Midwest Agri-Chemico, First Missouri Terminals, Consolidated Grain and Barge, and Missouri Fibre.
Last summer, concerns were raised when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers refused to dredge the port's harbor, threatening continued barge traffic in low waters.
A $425,000 grant was obtained through the Missouri Department of Economic Development to fund dredging, completed in mid-January. That covered all but about $30,000 of the cost, which the port authority will pay.
Before the dredge came, there were a couple businesses at the port that were not able to load barges for two to three weeks late last year, Overbey said.
"The ones that were shut out stayed open and were able to work around it. We were able to get the dredge into their facilities first," he said.
In the coming year, Overbey said, the port authority will be looking for a long-term solution to dredge funding. Dredging, which removes the silt that settles into the harbor, is necessary each summer to maintain proper water levels for barge traffic.
The Corps of Engineers recently imposed a new rule that it would only dredge ports that shipped out a five-year average of more than 1 million tons by barge.
"We're working with congresswoman Emerson, Senator McCaskill, Senator Blunt to see what can be done in terms of hopefully having the corps do it again in the future," Overbey said.
In the past, SEMO Port would receive line-item funding in the corps' budget for dredging costs each year.
Efforts in Washington, D.C., to end the practice of earmarks are affecting the way the corps operates, Overbey said.
"A lot of things up in the air in Washington at this point; one of those is reducing or eliminate earmarks. Unfortunately, that's the corps' entire budget. That's how they get funded," Overbey said.
Federal officials have discussed other ways of funding port maintenance. Routing funds for ports through state highway departments has been suggested.
"From our end any way it gets here it's workable, as long as the check comes in the mail," Overbey said.
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