Market Matters Blog

Mississippi River Swallows Another Barge; Gulf Region Still Above Flood Stage

By Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
The Mississippi River at Baton Rogue remains above flood stage but has dropped down into the moderate category. (Map courtesy NWS)

Maybe it's time to rename the Mississippi River "The Barge Graveyard" as another barge sank on Jan. 26. The river was closed at Mile 120 near Destrehan, Louisiana, to Mile 134 near Reserve, Louisiana.

According to reports, two tugs collided and caused a tank barge to capsize as the strong current from high water still is a hazard to tows moving barges.

On Jan. 27, the Louisiana Maritime Association (LaMA) released this statement: "The Coast Guard is reducing the closure to MM127-MM129. Additionally, the Coast Guard is opening the river to one way shallow draft traffic between MM127-MM129; traffic shall pass at slowest safe speed and give the Tugs GEISMER, and LOUISIANA STAR a wide berth. The overturned barge ... is being held to the right descending bank by three tugs. The Salvage Company is working on a plan to further secure the barge. Once better secured the Coast Guard will evaluate further reducing traffic restrictions between MM127-MM129."

Later that day, the LaMA said the Mississippi River at MM 128 to MM 129 AHP was re-opened to all navigation with certain rules in effect requiring minimum wake, wide berth and one-way traffic with no meeting or overtaking from all vessels from mile marker 128 to mile marker 129 AHP (above head of passes).

On January 28, Tom Russell, Russell Marine Group told DTN, "High water conditions have vastly improved in the northern and center areas of the river system; however some ice has developed on the Illinois River, slowing traffic.

"The Lower Mississippi from Vicksburg (mile 437) to New Orleans is still in high water conditions as water pushes down. Daylight only passage of tug and barges is permitted though Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. Vicksburg area will be below flood stage by the first week of February but remain at high levels into second week of February.

"The high water levels in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge Harbors have been revised and not expected to subside until last week of February. The Lower Mississippi is open and the New Orleans harbor is open to barge and ocean vessel traffic but safety protocols and restrictions remain in place. Expect and plan for continued problems until water subsides."

One good sign is the final closure of the Bonnet Carre Spillway expected to be completed by Feb. 1. The USACE started closing bays midweek and are doing a little each day to keep a proper balance between Lake Pontchartrain and the river. The spillway was opened on Jan. 10 to help alleviate the high water heading to the Gulf. The Corps had opened 210 of the 350 bays on the spillway, less than what they originally thought because the river did not rise as high as expected.

Remember back to early January when the flooding caused the St. Louis Harbor to close and caused tow and barges to pile up in the Harbor. Then, as St. Louis started to recover, the trickle-down effect took place causing slowdowns and closures from Vicksburg to New Orleans, which in turn caused tow boats and barges to bunch up in the south.

All of this affected the barge and rail basis and, while this time of year is not normally high traffic for grain movement, there is still export business taking place out of the Gulf. River terminals got behind on their loading schedules and while rail was an option to get some of the grain to St. Louis or the Gulf, those basis levels have turned lower recently because of the river shutdowns that have occurred during the past two weeks between Vicksburg into the Gulf.

With the Gulf still under safety restrictions for vessels waiting to load, shippers continue to get that much further behind. USDA reported on January 28 that for the week ending January 21, 32 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf, 23.8% less than the same period last year.

Russell added, "Even though the high water situation has improved, particularly in northern tier, logistics and barge traffic is upside down and has not yet returned to normal flow patterns. Tow boats and barges are out of sync as a result of high water that caused tow size restrictions and closures."

Mary Kennedy can be reached at mary.kennedy@dtn.com

Follow her on Twitter @MaryCKenn

(CZ/BAS)

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