More Funding Patches Keep Dredges Working On Upper Miss

A second funds transfer to the Rock Island Engineer District from the St. Paul Engineer District will help keep dredges working through the end of September.

Tom Heinold, chief of operations of the Rock Island Engineer District, told The Waterways Journal that his hard-pressed district had received another emergency transfer of $2 million from the St. Paul Engineer District. That came after a similar transfer of $1.8 million from the St. Louis Engineer District the previous week. The transfers help defer a shortage that, at one point, threatened to force the removal of dredges keeping key reaches open on the Upper Mississippi River after unprecedented spring and summer flooding.

In early June, President Donald Trump signed an emergency dredging appropriation of $100 million from Congress, but that money has not yet made its way to districts where it is needed.

Heinold said rainfall had also given the district’s dredges some temporary reprieves. “The rain does ease river levels, giving us a day here and a day there. It’s almost maddening, because it can give the wrong idea that the crisis is over,” he said.

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The dredging “heavyweight” working the region is the Goetz, owned by the St. Paul District, a modern dredge christened by the Corps in 2005. It is 225 feet long by 39 feet wide, with a 22-inch diameter suction pipe and 20-inch diameter discharge pipe. Heinold said the St. Paul funds transfer will keep the Goetz operating through the end of the fiscal year at the end of September. Some contracted mechanical dredges have had to be sent home due to the funding crunch.

While the funds transfers are welcome, industry and Corps insider say the transfers—-called reprogramming—are only a temporary fix that takes money away from other needed projects.

The remaining districts within the Mississippi Valley Division have dredging funding that is expected to last through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.  But industry and Corps sources warn that the excessive silting left by the spring and summer floods will present ongoing challenges that will continue well into next year—and into the next appropriations cycle.

Besides additional dredging, the Coast Guard is having to resurvey river channels before placing buoys, as the channels have completely changed, resulting in light-loading and more groundings in many reaches of the Mississippi, Missouri and Arkansas rivers.