U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to blast rock along Mississippi River

Published: Dec. 17, 2012 at 5:08 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 18, 2012 at 4:35 PM CST
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The Dorena-Hickman Ferry had to limit large trucks due to low water levels at the end of...
The Dorena-Hickman Ferry had to limit large trucks due to low water levels at the end of November.
The Army Corps began excavating the area near Thebes Tuesday. (Source: KFVS photojournalist...
The Army Corps began excavating the area near Thebes Tuesday. (Source: KFVS photojournalist John Morgan)

THEBES, IL (KFVS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will begin blasting away rock pinnacles along the Mississippi River near Thebes, Ill. to help maintain water flow on a low Mississippi River.

The blasting and increasing dredging will help maintain water flow on the Mississippi River during near-record low water levels.

Monday, Army Corps contractors will begin work to demolish rock pinnacles posing a hazard to barges along a 15-mile stretch of river near Thebes, Ill.

"Cape Girardeau and Thebes is a very unique area on the Mississippi River," said Lt. Colin Fogarty with the U.S. Coast Guard. "Whereas on most parts of the Mississippi River, the earth is actually silt, sand, mud, or clay. Here it is actually bedrock and the only thing that can be done with bedrock and it either can be grinded out or blown up. We're going with the Army Corps right now to make sure that rock is removed to be sure that navigation can continue despite these low water conditions."

Both contractors will use specialized "drill rig barges" to drill large holes into bedrock, insert blast material and remove the rock.

This means that portion of the river will be closed to shipping for all but eight hours each day.

In addition to blasting, the Corps is also planning to increase dredging along the river. Besides the dredging machine already in use, the Corps mobilized a second dredging machine last week and has identified other dredging ships which can be used, if necessary, to keep the river open to traffic.

Several lawmakers from Missouri and Illinois have urged the federal government to intervene to help preserve the river.

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (R-IL-12), the Army Corps of Engineers, and representatives from stakeholder industries such as agriculture, shipping, coal and petroleum participated in a meeting Monday to discussed the Corps' efforts.

Water levels are approaching 1989's record drought levels, and barges are currently required to carry lighter loads, according to Lt. Gov. Simon's office.

Mississippi River commerce is estimated to be a $180 billion a year industry. If water levels drop below nine feet, barge traffic from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. could be shut down. Trucks utilize more fuel than barges, and barges are able to carry a larger volume of goods than trains or trucks. According to the federal Government Accounting Office, the cost of trucking goods is nine times higher than the cost of transporting products by water.

This summer's historic drought has caused the Mississippi's water level to fall to historic lows, threatening navigation of the river. Recent rainfall and weather forecasts have improved the Mississippi's outlook, though the water level could still fall to a record low as soon as Dec. 26.

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