Declaration of emergency sought for drought-plagued waterways

ARLINGTON, VA – The American Waterways Operators, National Waterways Conference, Waterways Council Inc., and 15 other national organizations submitted a letter today to President Obama and the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting a presidential declaration of emergency and seeking “immediate assistance in averting an economic catastrophe in the heartland of the United States.”

The letter calls attention to the worsening situation on the Mississippi River which is “near historic low water levels that have restricted barge traffic on the nation’s critical water transportation artery since this summer.” The letter comes just as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun reducing water flows to the Mississippi River from dams on the upper Missouri River.

The industry is concerned that the reduced flows from the Missouri River will be felt downstream and rock pinnacles are exposed near Thebes and Grand Tower, Ill., which will significantly impair the flow of commerce by mid-December. That's why the inland waterway groups are requesting that the president declare an emergency and direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately remove the rock pinnacles and release water from the Missouri River reservoirs that is necessary to preserve a nine-foot channel on the Mississippi River to sustain commercial navigation.

The groups warn that the economic impacts of a Mississippi River closure would be dire, placing $7 billion in key products such as corn, grain, coal, petroleum, chemicals and other products at risk in December and January alone.

“Our shippers are looking at alternate modes of transportation,” Marty Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for AEP River Operations told Bloomberg. “If you’re shipping raw materials to a steel mill in Chicago, you’re trying to figure out if you can go to Cincinnati or Louisville, Kentucky, unload it out of the barge and rail it up to the steel mill.”

The inland groups say the following commodities would be affected by the low water:

· Over 7 million tons of agricultural products worth $2.3 billion;

· Over 1.7 million tons of chemical products worth $1.8 billion;

· 1.3 million tons of petroleum products worth over $1.3 billion;

· Over 700,000 tons of crude oil worth $534 million; and

· 3.8 million tons of coal worth $192 million.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, as well as 15 U.S. senators and 62 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, have written the Obama administration calling attention to the severity of the situation and urging action to keep the river open to navigation.

“The time for action is now, because once the water levels on the Mississippi drop, this will be an even harder problem to solve,” Tom Allegretti, AWO president and CEO, said in a statement. “An emergency declaration is needed now to allow the swift removal of the rock pinnacles and assurance of sufficient flows from the Missouri River while the rock removal work is taking place, both needed measures to ensure the Mississippi River can remain open at a sufficient depth to keep waterborne commerce flowing.”

“Understanding the consequences of further impairment, or certainly cessation of Mississippi River navigation during the critical winter months, this situation necessitates immediate action,” Amy Larson, NWC president and CEO, said in the same release. “This can be done in a balanced and measured manner respecting other river interests, but it simply must be done.”

“The ripple effect of failing to efficiently move $7 billion in key commodities would be staggering,” said Mike Toohey, president and CEO of WCI, echoing their concerns. “The most immediate effects would be felt up and down the river, but would spread quickly from those that work on the river to those that ship on the river to manufacturing workers and eventually to all of us as consumers. This is an economic disaster in the making and the administration needs to act now to stop it.