Editorial

Giving Thanks On The Rivers
November 20, 2017


How much does the towing industry have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?

Barge rates continue to be low. This year’s hurricane season saw three major hurricanes wreak havoc in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. The crisis sparked unprecedented levels of attack on the Jones Act from left and right. Several unscheduled lock outages on the Ohio River and elsewhere have crimped this year’s harvest exports. Major uncertainties still abound regarding this administration’s policies on trade and infrastructure.

But while none of these challenges should be minimized, every one of them comes with its own reasons to be grateful. The current slump in barge rates and utilization is painful, but nowhere near as serious as that faced in the early 1980s. Ports in Texas quickly recovered from the hurricane damage and are operating at capacity, even as channels continue to be dredged and damage to its facilities repaired.

Although thousands of people in Texas, Louisiana and Florida lost their homes, many have good reason to be grateful to the many rivermen and mariners who used their skills to rescue hundreds of people stranded in the hurricanes’ aftermath.

Misinformed critics on the left and right took advantage of the hurricanes to launch unprecedented attacks on the Jones Act. But the Jones Act fleet responded, quickly and efficiently supplying Puerto Rico with thousands of tons of necessary supplies, effectively refuting claims that the fleet was inadequate and that the cabotage policy is outdated.

The lock outages slowed traffic and put kinks in export cargoes. Meanwhile, though, they continue to draw national attention to the urgent needs of waterways infrastructure. Ohio River navigators can look forward to giving thanks in 2018, when Olmsted Locks and Dam will come on line and finally eliminate the need for Locks and Dams 52 and 53.

One important reason why the administration’s infrastructure policies are in flux is because our advocacy organizations are so effectively correcting errors and misconceptions and communicating the right information about our industry and its place in our nation’s economy.

We’re thankful for all these groups, their leaders and members, for their tireless efforts to safeguard the inland waterways industry and further its goals.

In the bigger picture, both the American and world economies are on a healthy upswing, demand for American oil and gas and agricultural exports will continue to grow in the long term, and the fundamentals of the barge industry are strong. That’s plenty of reason for gratitude.

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