Commercial traffic reopens on Mississippi after dredging completed

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Commercial traffic along the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota is open again after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cleared truckloads of excess silt and sediment that caused impassable shallow waters.

The Corps St. Paul District announced Friday it completed emergency dredging operations in two areas that had been shut down for weeks: near Winona, Minnesota, and between Wabasha, Minnesota and Alma, Wisconsin.

The dredging operations removed more than 290,000 cubic yards of dredged material from the river, creating 200-foot-wide channels in both areas that are the necessary 9 feet deep to allow for commercial traffic.

The problem was created by June's heavy flooding, the Army Corps previously explained: Recent high waters caused large amounts of sediment to be carried down the river. Water levels receded, and all that extra build-up made the river impossible for many ships to navigate.

The amount of material dredged out is enough to fill a line of 10-cubic-yard dump trucks from Minneapolis to La Crosse, the Corps said. It totaled nearly 30 percent of what's removed during an average year.

The Coast Guard opened the channels without restrictions Friday.

Impact on business

The barge stoppage had been called one of the worst in recent memory.

ABC 6 in Austin reported that in Winona and Wabasha, 17 tow boats and more than 150 barges were stranded along the Upper Mississippi earlier this week.

“We have people who have worked in the Corps since the late 1980’s and they’ve never seen it where they’ve had so much sedimentation brought in that it shuts down large stretches of river like it did this time,” George Stringham from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the station.

The blockage in the critical shipping channel has taken an economic toll upriver in St. Paul where cargo transport has been stalled, according to the Star Tribune.

“We have something like $50 million in commodities that are waiting to go,” Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services which runs towboats in and out of St. Paul’s harbor, told the paper.

The channel between Winona and Alma was closed July 19 due to shallow conditions; traffic was halted on the Winona channel four days later after a grounding at Blacksmith Slough, the Corps said.

Barges are one of the chief ways cement and road salt are transported from the South. A shortage of cement could reverberate through the construction industry, and a reduced supply of road salt – already depleted from a last year’s relentless winter – could hit many state and local agencies.

Meanwhile, as the fall harvest approaches, shippers need access to the river to transport tons of grain. An estimated 60 percent of all U.S. grain exports are shipped on the Mississippi through New Orleans and the Port of South Louisiana.

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