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Riverport traffic picks up with improving Mississippi River conditions

Jan. 31—Last year's drought reduced shipping along the Mississippi River, to where barges were unable to carry full loads. When river traffic did flow, it was because of dredging done by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The problems in the Mississippi were felt at the Owensboro Riverport, where barges were delayed weeks. Since barges move products such as diesel fuel, and ship grain from Owensboro to market, fuel prices and shipping costs were affected as well.

But Riverport Director Brian Wright said, at least barges coming to Owensboro, traffic now is "fairly normal."

"It started coming back in December, when we started seeing rain and snow," Wright said.

"We were blessed, to be honest with you, with some positive wet conditions around December," Wright said.

Water levels in the Mississippi fell to lows not seen since the last 1980s, Wright said previously. In order for barges to move along the river, the Army Corps of Engineers had to regularly dredge the river, and barges had to carry smaller loads.

For example, the typical draft for barges is 9.6 feet, but federal officials adjusted the draft to 9 feet, so barge loads were lessened to reduce drafts.

"The Army Corps of Engineers was critical" in keeping traffic moving, Wright said.

"We definitely have a lot of barges coming in with aluminum," Wright said.

Grain has also been shipping out of the riverport by barge.

"I know they have been loading a lot of outbound grain this month," Wright said.

Later, Wright said, "I can only assume the pricing was getting better for farmers."

A railroad worker strike was averted in December, which would have affected the riverport's shipments of materials to make sodium bicarbonate, Wright said previously.

Although railroad workers didn't strike, rail transport to the riverport is affected by other issues, Wright said.

"We are still seeing some inconsistencies in rail between Louisville and here," Wright said. "They have been having some manpower issues." Issues with rail affect other local industries in addition to the riverport, such as local distilleries, Wright said.