As the Mississippi River's water level threatens to reach a historic low, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined U.S. Representative Bill Enyart (D-IL-12) and leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard to view firsthand the work underway to remove rock pinnacles which threaten navigation on the river.
Major General John Peabody, Army Corps Mississippi Valley Division Commander, and Rear Admiral Roy A. Nash, Commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, briefed Durbin and Enyart on the ongoing efforts -- including dredging, releasing water from dams upstream, and removing rock pinnacles which pose a hazard to navigation -- to maintain barge traffic on the river. Following their meeting, the group traveled by boat to view the pinnacle removal work.
"As goes the Mississippi, so goes much of the industry in Illinois," Durbin said. "Between this summer's drought and the current upstream freezing, Mother Nature has dealt us a difficult hand when it comes to keeping the river open to shippers transporting goods to market. I wanted to come to Thebes today to get an up-close look at some of the most important work underway to keep the Mississippi open. The White House is monitoring this situation carefully and briefing me weekly on the issue as we work to maintain navigation on the river."
"I am deeply concerned about the Mississippi River water levels and the significant economic implications for Southern Illinois families and businesses," Enyart said. "While we continue to monitor the situation closely, cooperation among the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard, and industry is imperative. I am confident that by working together, there are important steps to be taken to ensure that traffic continues on the Mississippi and good jobs are not put at risk."
"The Mississippi River is a vital natural resource that supports the economic growth of Illinois and the entire Midwest," Lt. Governor Sheila Simon said. "Today we saw just how serious the situation is, and I thank Sen. Durbin for his continued work to help us preserve the river and keep navigation open to business."
On Dec. 17, Durbin convened a meeting in East Alton, Illinois between the Army Corps of Engineers and industry and local stakeholders to discuss the Corps' plans to maintain navigation on the Mississippi. The meeting was attended by U.S. Representatives Jerry Costello and John Shimkus, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon, and representatives from agriculture, shipping, coal and petroleum. That same day saw the beginning of pinnacle removal on the river. Enyart was also briefed by the Army Corps of Engineers in December during his district-wide listening tour.
"After a meeting with Secretary Darcy in my office, the Corps expedited the contracting for this pinnacle removal," Durbin said. "Now, a job that wasn't even expected to begin until March will now be finished sometime this week. But we aren't out of the woods yet, and I look forward to continuing working with both industry and government leaders as we tackle this problem."
Following this summer's historic drought, the National Weather Service predicts the Mississippi River's depth could soon near record low levels, threatening navigation on the river. As a critical transportation artery for essential commodities like corn, grain and oilseeds, coal and petroleum, the river's shutdown could have far-reaching economic impacts.