River Committee Sounds Emergency Dredging Alarm

A dredging emergency in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers led river industry representatives to appeal to members of Congress to urge the Corps to better distribute already-allocated emergency dredging funds.

Due to the unprecedented spring flooding, this year’s dredging challenges on virtually all midwestern river systems dwarf what’s usually seen in a normal year.

On August 12, industry members of the River Industry Executive Task Force (RIETF) received notice from the Corps that the Rock Island Engineer District would have to start removing dredges from the rivers on August 17 due to lack of funding.

The district said it had not yet received emergency dredging funds  allocated by Congress.  On June 6, President Donald Trump signed the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, in which Congress provided an additional $100 million for emergency dredging above and beyond the Corps’ usual appropriations.

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According to industry sources, there are more than 23 reaches in the Rock Island District alone that are in danger of restricted movement or closure unless dredging is continued. “Further closures would not only harm the industry and its customers’ businesses, but the nation’s economy,” according to an email to industry stakeholders written by RIETF co-chairman Darin Adrian.

“I strongly request that you and others from your company reach out to your senators and representatives in the next 24 hours and ask them ‘to direct the Corps to allocate the funds to avert additional disruptions to the nation’s inland waterway transportation system,’” the email said.

Adrian also sent a letter to members of the Senate Appropriations and Environment and Public Works committees.

The letter, with copies to assistant secretary of the Army R.D. James and Maj. Gen. Mark Toy, newly installed commanding general of the Mississippi Valley Division, read:

“After 85 days of closure on the Upper Mississippi River and lengthy closures on most major rivers, barge traffic is finally moving. Despite the re-opening, barge traffic is still moving with restricted tows and random river closures. In fact, funding for emergency dredging in the Rock Island District will be exhausted in the coming days and the Corps anticipates that the Dredge Goetz will cease operations by Saturday, August 17, due to lack of funding.

“We are requesting your help to ensure that the funds appropriated with the passage of H.R. 2157—Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act, 2019 ($100 million)—be made available immediately. The industry members of RIETF urge Congress to direct the Corps to allocate the funds to avert additional disruptions to the nation’s inland waterway transportation system.

“Without this immediate action, over 20 reaches of the Mississippi River in the Rock Island District alone are in danger of closure by the end of the week.  RIETF also expects similar dredging issues to impact the St. Paul District, the St. Louis District, the Lower Mississippi, and other waterways in the near future if emergency funding is not distributed to the appropriate districts. If this vital segment of the Upper Mississippi River is not maintained to its fully authorized width and depth, the nation’s heartland will face severe economic consequences.”