Dredging Money Still In Limbo

As the harvest season reaches its peak, Corps of Engineer districts are struggling to slowly unclog rivers and resurvey channels that were choked with unprecedented amounts of silt this spring. Yet as this issue went to press, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) still had not released $100 million in emergency dredging funds voted by Congress and signed by President Trump in early June.

The Rock Island Engineer District and its contractors are working around the clock to keep the Upper Mississippi River clear of silt and obstructions. Tom Heinold, chief of operations for the Rock Island district, told The Waterways Journal he has not received any of the emergency dredging money as yet, and has had no word of when it might be released. All his queries, he said, are met with the same answer: “That information is with the OMB.”

Despite this, Heinold’s teams have managed to reduce the number of dredging hot spots in his district. But that is only because of dredges lent by the St. Paul and St. Louis engineer districts, along with additional money sent by both districts to cover costs. The money those districts send to Rock Island means other projects within the districts are deferred.

Heinold said recent periods of rain have also provided a reprieve to the dredging efforts by temporarily raising river levels.

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Out of 24 dredging hot spots, said Heinold, dredges had cleared eight at press time. The worst remaining one was at Howard’s Crossing, located at Mile 338.5, near Pool 21, which featured cross-shoals.

The Coast Guard’s buoy-tender mv. Warioto was standing by to lay buoys to mark the dredged channels. After the district surveys channels using side-to-side sonar—information it shares with the navigation industry—the Coast Guard can lay physical buoys within 24 hours or less. It sets “virtual” electronic buoys ahead of physical buoys at some locations.

Illinois River Opens

On the plus side, the Illinois River is enjoying 10 days of unrestricted movement through full-width locks. The open movement began September 11, as work on Starved Rock and Marseilles locks was completed a day ahead of schedule. The unrestricted period is scheduled to run through September 21. The opening is good news for barge operators, who have endured delays, large queues and bottlenecks on the crucial grain export corridor.

Although this summer’s tow delays were due mostly to repair work on the two locks in preparation for next summer’s major closures, the Illinois River had its share of silting issues as well.

Mike Klingner, chairman of the Upper Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri River Association (UMIMRA), said there have been persistent silting issues in Quincy, Ill., an important port on the Upper Mississippi River. “We’ve had a real problem with sediment back-loading in Quincy bay,” he told The Waterways Journal.

Upper Arkansas River Closed

Meanwhile, the upper Arkansas River remains closed to navigation upriver of Lock and Dam 16 at Webbers Falls, Ark., as crews assess damage to the dam after two barges were removed. The barges had struck the dam and sunk after breaking free in May during the height of the high water.

In order to aid the removal of the two barges, the pool had to be lowered above the lock and dam below the level where it could be used for navigation. Brannen Parrish, a public affairs specialist in the Tulsa Engineer District, said there is as yet no end-to-end barge traffic on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, and there may not be until November.

Parrish said there was no concern about the structural integrity of the dam itself. Instead, three stop-log recesses that had been damaged were being repaired. “We’re in a bit of a funnel situation,” said Parrish. “The repairs we’re making ensure that future repairs will be able to be made. It’s a question of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.”

Dredging upriver of Webbers Falls has not begun and won’t until the water level is allowed to rise again. Parrish said the district is working closely with the navigation industry to determine the area’s dredging needs.

Tows Moving On Lower Arkansas

Downstream, Jay Townsend, public affairs chief of the Little Rock Engineer District, said tows have been moving from the Port of Little Rock onto the Mississippi River system for a month. As with the Upper Mississippi, crews are surveying the channel, which is not at its authorized 9-foot depth everywhere.

There are no official tow restrictions but operators have voluntarily reduced tow sizes in some cases. “The navigation industry here is resilient and fantastic,” said Townsend. “They’ve put smart restrictions in place, and they know how to navigate around known shoaling areas.”

A contractor’s dredge is stationed at Mile 222, one of the known shoaling spots in the river due to its hydrography.

Some repair work that was delayed by the flood is getting done now, including cutting of grooves in the concrete at Lock and Dam 10 at Dardanelle to allow a new bulkhead to be installed that will allow dewatering in the future. There is also a scheduled closure coming up at Murray Lock and Dam  from September 25 through September 27.

“I can’t believe how fast our teams are getting, both at preparing the locks and dams for high water, and at checking and repairing them once the waters recede,” said Townsend.