Kokosing Construction Co. and Dubuque Barge & Fleeting Service Co. won an $8 million U.S. contract to blast Mississippi River rocks that threaten to halt traffic as water levels drop on the nation’s biggest waterway.
The companies may begin work as soon as Dec. 17, Bob Anderson, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, said today in a phone interview. The Corps had originally scheduled the work to start in February.
A stretch of river from St. Louis to southern Illinois may become impassable within weeks as the worst drought in 50 years cuts the flow of water. A shutdown would jam traffic on the river, which carries about $7 billion in cargo including grain and crude oil, in December and January, according to the Waterways Council Inc., an Arlington, Virginia-based industry group that includes shippers.
Kokosing, of Fredericktown, Ohio, and Dubuque Barge, of Dubuque, Iowa, will use explosives to demolish almost 900 cubic yards of submerged rock “pinnacles” near Thebes, Illinois, about 128 miles (206 kilometers) downstream from St. Louis. The Corps agreed to expedite the work after requests from lawmakers including Senators Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican.
The contract won by the closely held companies calls for as many as 16 hours of blasting a day, with eight hours set aside for river traffic, Anderson said.
The work may take as long as 60 days, according to the Corps. Water levels near St. Louis will fall below 9 feet (2.7 meters) after Dec. 26, absent precipitation, the National Weather Service said today in its four-week forecast. While the Corps has said most barge traffic will stop if the water level is less than 9 feet, carriers say many tow boats that push barges need at least 10 feet of water to operate.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, on Dec. 6 rejected the possibility of increasing the water flow from a majority tributary, an option sought by shippers and lawmakers from Illinois and Missouri. Unleashing water stored in reservoirs along the Missouri River would put drinking supplies and wildlife at risk and may raise hydropower bills, she said, siding with officials from the Dakotas, Kansas and Montana.