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U.S. Redady to Blast River Rocks to Aid Barges: Harkin

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is open to expedited dynamiting of Mississippi River rock formations and increasing the flow from a tributary to prevent curtailing barge traffic on the nation’s busiest waterway, Senator Tom Harkin said.

“They’re hopeful they can start on this in December,” Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, told reporters today after a meeting in Washington with Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works. Harkin was among lawmakers from his state, Illinois, Missouri and Minnesota urging the Corps to act.

Mississippi River barge traffic is slowing as the worst drought in five decades and a seasonal dry period are pushing water levels to a near-record low, prompting shippers, including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., to seek alternatives. Harkin said lawmakers today will ask the Corps to assess the impact of water released from the Missouri River, which may be completed within the next week.

The Corps has agreed to respond to the lawmakers request “fairly quickly” and hasn’t committed to a December start for the water release or blasting the rocks as Harkin suggested, Gene Pawlik, an agency spokesman, said in a phone interview.

Lawmakers and shippers have urged President Barack Obama to declare an emergency, which would allow the blasting to begin at the same time the Corps releases water from the Missouri, Harkin said after the meeting.

Asked about the requests, White House spokesman Jay Carney today said the administration is exploring “all possible options” to maintain traffic on the river.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat who participated in the meeting, also said the Corps of Engineers is open to expedited work.

“They seemed to understand the gravity of the problem, and we talked about speeding up the work that needs to be done to blow the rock formations so that we can get more water flowing,” she said.

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