First Mississippi River towboat will be late

By John Weiss, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

Mar. 27–LAKE CITY — Lake Pepin’s ice has just about disappeared, Mississippi River locks and dams in the region are ready, but where is the first big towboat pushing barges upriver?

It isn’t here, and it’s going to be very late.

On average the last 10 years, the first tow, which is made up of a towboat and barges, has reached Lock and Dam 4 at Alma, Wis., around March 17. But none is going to come up the river because of scheduled maintenance at Lock and Dam 25 near St. Louis, according to Mark Davidson, a public information officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul. Lock and Dam 25 isn’t supposed to open until April 4 and then the first tow has to push up the river, which takes several days to cover the more than 500 miles north.

The official first tow has to come from outside the St. Paul corps district, which starts at Guttenberg, Iowa.

Until then, towboats already up in the region will be able to push barges around, but the first big one isn’t set to arrive for a few weeks.

The earliest time a tow has reached the Alma lock was March 3 in 1983. The latest was May 9, 2001, when one of the region’s biggest recorded floods, and its longest lasting one on record, swept down the river.

Traditionally, Pepin’s ice is the last thing holding up a tow from getting to St. Paul to officially begin the year’s commercial navigation season. The lake is a natural reservoir of the river, and ice this year was more than 2 feet thick in many places. Eight days ago, it was still about 20 inches thick, but warmth and the current ate away that ice so that most of it was gone by Tuesday.

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