The mv. Melba L. Engemann closes out the Missouri River navigation season with a tow of soybeans. (Photo courtesy of Hermann Sand & Gravel)

Melba L. Engemann Winds Up Missouri River Navigation Season

The mv. Melba L. Engemann, operated by Missouri River Towing, which is owned by Hermann Sand & Gravel Inc., took the last southbound tow of nine barges carrying soybeans from Omaha, Neb., to close out this year’s navigation season on the Missouri River before the Corps of Engineers restricted water flow from the Gavins Point reservoir. 

The flow support season ended three days early, on November 28, at the mouth of the Missouri River. Release reductions to the winter rate of 12,000 cubic feet per second (from 30,000 cfs) were scheduled beginning November 19. Releases were gradually reduced by 3,000 cfs. each day until reaching a rate of 15,000 cfs. Releases were then paused before stepping down 1,000 cfs. every five days to the winter release rate. Fort Randall releases were stepped down in a similar manner, approximately one day prior to the Gavins Point reductions.

Afterward, the Melba L. Engemann might be available for spot charter work on the Mississippi River, according to Steven Engemann, president of family-owned Hermann Sand & Gravel. Although Missouri River Towing focuses on the Missouri River, it operates on all of the western rivers. 

According to the Missouri River Water Management Division of the Corps of Engineers, reservoir studies indicate that system storage will be well below normal at the start of the 2023 runoff season. System storage is forecast to be about 46.5 million acre feet (maf.), more than 9 maf. into the system’s carryover and multiple use zone. This means that the Fort Peck, Garrison and Oahe reservoirs are expected to be approximately 12 to 15 feet below the base of their respective flood control zones on March 1.

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Nevertheless, Engemann wants customers to know that despite the widely publicized drought this year in the western plains, navigation on the Missouri River was in good shape this past year. “We’ve had increased business even in a drought,” he told The Waterways Journal. He said the Corps of Engineers has done an outstanding job in repairing damage to the river’s navigation and training structures remaining from the epic floods of 2019. 

“We’ve had 8-foot drafts though the season and were able to make deliveries,” he said. 

While more work remains to be done, he said the Corps has been adequately funded for this work. 

“Conditions have definitely improved; the Corps is doing good work and trying to give us a reliable channel,” he said.

The demand is certainly there. His company has been active in ports all along the Missouri River, taking loads to ASB Brunswick Mo., TransPort 360 in St. Joseph, Mo., Port KC, Central Plains dock in Omaha, the recently expanded barge facilities in Waverly, Mo., and New Coop in Blencoe, Iowa. Cargoes have consisted of grain, fertilizer, cement, scrap iron and clay. “We have great customers and outstanding employees to make this happen successfully,” Engemann said. 

The Melba L. Engemann—renamed for Steve’s mother, former owner of Hermann Sand & Gravel who passed away in September 2020—was built in 1985 by Quality Shipyards Inc. in Houma, La. It’s a twin-screw boat powered by 4,000 hp. Caterpillar 3516 diesel engines. Originally known as the Kentucky Merchant when it was operated by Arrow Transportation Company of Guntersville, Ala., it was sold in 1991 to Mulzer Crushed Stone Company, where it was renamed the Jane Mulzer. 

Missouri River Towing’s other boats are the 2,400 hp. Gerald F. Engemann (named for his father) and Ava Hadley (named for his daughter). The Ava Hadley was recently bought from Yazoo Towing this past April; it was formerly the Kristi P. Smith. “The Ava Hadley was a nice addition to our fleet,” Engemann said. “She probably has more Missouri River miles than any working boat on the river. She made many trips between Wood River and Sioux City when operated by Magnolia Marine Transportation.”Hermann Sand & Gravel Inc. also operates 900 hp. Kathryn Ann (named for Engemann’s  wife), which operates mostly in the dredging trade. 

The Melba Engemann was bought to replace the company’s mv. Mary Lynn, which caught fire May 18, 2020, on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis. Hermann Sand & Gravel also plans to rebuild the Mary Lynn, which suffered about $700,000 in damage, Engemann said. “We hope to have her pushing again by 2024.”