River levels could cost coal miners their jobs

PERRY COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - By Arnold Wyrick - bio | email

PERRY COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - The mild winter and long hot summer could now cost hundreds of southern Illinois coal miners their jobs.

Knight Hawk Coal ships out more than 15-thousand tons of coal daily from their mining operations in Southern Illinois.

"About 80% of our volume that we produce a day goes on the Mississippi River, through our loading dock south of Chester," said Andrew Carter at Knight Hawk Coal, LLC. "We don't know what the restrictions will look like when they occur. But if they're significant it would severely impact our ability to move our product to our customers."

The problem looming for Knight Hawk Coal and other companies who rely on the Mississippi River for their business is a proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

They want to cutback on the flow of water coming down the Missouri River, which could have a devastating impact on things south of the confluence on the Mississippi River.

"Right now they're expecting a river level of a negative five foot in Saint Louis by the first week of December. Which would impede our ability to move traffic on the Mississippi River," said Carter.

And if that happens Carter says the company may have to make some tough decision in a few weeks.

"We're afraid if there's no action by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not decrease the flow from the Missouri River or to take out some of the impediments on the river near Thebes and Grand Tower, that we may be forced into a position where we have to curtail our production," said Carter. "That's our last resort and something we want to avoid."

Carter says the worst case scenario would be if the water levels drop so low that the river is only open to barge traffic during the daylight hours.

"We would be looking at a 50% reduction in our daily production," said Carter. "We're hoping there can be enough pressure on our state and local governments to put some pressure on the Federal Government to make sure the Mississippi River stays navigable."

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