River pilots concerned about more structures to control flow of Mississippi

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pilots are worried that if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds more structures to control the Mississippi River, barge companies' bottom lines will feel the effects.

About a dozen people, mostly river pilots, attended a public meeting Thursday at the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center, hosted by the corps as part of an environmental assessment of new river structures. The structures are made using large piles of stones on the river bottom in various configurations.

The corps says the structures reduce the need for dredging by using the force of the river to move sediment out of the navigation channel, but pilots said changing the velocity of the current can cause them problems.

Some pilots said they'd like to see a study on how much the current's velocity has changed as a result of the structures.

"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 has seen the river's flow change as a result of the structures during his 40 years on the river. He transports coal by barge from just above St. Louis to New Rose, La.

"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.

In the coming year, the corps has plans to install underwater dikes called weirs at Price's Landing, about three miles north of Buffalo Island in Mississippi County, said Jasen Brown, project manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Building up the river's edge with rock, called a bank revetment, is also planned at the St. Louis Harbor, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers come together.

An audit of the corps' river training structures was completed in December by the Government Accountability Office. The report looked at the impact of the structures on the environment and flooding.

According to the GAO's report, some researchers believe these structures unintentionally cause large volumes of water to back up in the river, increasing the height of floodwaters. Corps officials disagree.

"We don't believe there is anything that concretely ties the two together, but we will keep looking," said Mike Petersen, public affairs chief for the St. Louis District office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps continues to monitor the effects of the structures, he said.

As part of its environmental assessment process, the corps is seeking public input on the structures' effect on flooding, wildlife, river navigation and recreational boating.

People may submit comments via email to RiverTrainingStructures@usace.army.mil or mail them to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- St. Louis District, Attn: Environmental Planning Section (CEMVS-PD-E), 1222 Spruce St., St. Louis, MO 63103-2833.

The environmental assessment is scheduled to be completed in November. More information on river training structures can be found at www.mvs.usace.army.mil/arec.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

2289 County Park Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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