The U.S. will begin demolition of rocks threatening barge traffic on the Mississippi River by Jan. 3, speeding up the project by about a month, the Army Corps of Engineers said.
The government today planned to amend its request for proposals to speed the removal of about 13 percent of the most hazardous rock structures, called pinnacles, near the town of Thebes in southern Illinois, according to Mike Petersen, a spokesman for the Corps in St. Louis.
The Corps will offer a “restricted competition based on urgent and compelling circumstances,” Petersen said in a phone interview. The demolition, including using explosives to blast away the rock, was originally scheduled to begin in early February.
U.S. lawmakers led by Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, have pressed the Corps to speed removal of the pinnacles as barge traffic slows on the river due to low water levels compounded by the worst drought in more than 50 years. The Corps also has agreed to expedite its assessment of increasing water flows from the Missouri River, a major tributary that joins the Mississippi near St. Louis.
The Corps on Nov. 30 issued a request for bids to remove about 7,000 cubic yards of rock from the Mississippi, then withdrew it for revision, Petersen said. The agency today planned to amend the request to hasten the removal of 890 cubic yards of rock that present the greatest hazard to barges, he said.
It will also issue a separate amendment for a longer-term contract to remove an additional 6,000 cubic yards of submerged rock in the river near southern Illinois.
The Corps of Engineers projects that shallow water will impair navigation on the Mississippi by Dec. 11 and a record low-water mark will be set on Dec. 22. Shippers are already beginning to carry less cargo, reducing the amount of water their boats displace, and to look for other means of transport for their products.
“Every inch of cargo could mean the difference between a profit and a loss,” Merritt Lane, president of Canal Barge Co., a New Orleans-based marine transport company, said in a phone interview.
Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council Inc., an Arlington, Virginia-based industry group that includes shippers, said that just blasting the rocks away is “not a solution” and that water from the Missouri River will have to be released.
“This has dragged on far too long and now the crisis is upon us,” Colbert said in e-mail.
Removing 900 yards of limestone rock would probably take a few days, Jim Ludwiczak, president of Blasting and Mining Consultants Inc. of Owensboro, Kentucky, said in a Nov. 30 phone interview. Just how long will depend on the Corps’ specifications for the project, he said.
The Corps of Engineers has said it intends to keep the river navigable while the work is under way. The agency hasn’t said how long the project will take under the amended contract.
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