The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that the first and most critical phase of rock removal on the Mississippi River near Thebes, Ill., has been completed ahead of schedule.
"The Corps is especially pleased with the efficient and effective performance of the rock removal effort, which deepened the navigation channel by two feet in just three weeks," said St. Louis District Commander Col. Christopher Hall.
Just prior to the announcement, American Soybean Association CEO Steve Censky and other waterways industry stakeholders participated in a meeting with Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., in St. Louis to discuss low water levels on the Mississippi River.
Also in attendance were the Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard the National Weather Service, Waterways Council, National Corn Growers Association, Carpenters Union, and American Waterways Operators.
At the meeting, ASA's Censky stressed the importance of maintaining river navigation to agriculture and related industries.
According to ASA, more than 60% of U.S. soybean exports, or 830 million bushels, will be exported via Southern Louisiana terminals during the current 2012/2013 marketing year. Almost all of that arrives via barge.
Rock removal to keep that barge traffic flowing began Dec. 16. About 890 cubic yards of limestone was removed from the navigation channel near Thebes.
Previous reports that the river would be able to sustain navigation kept farm groups supportive and optimistic.
"ASA has been and continues to be very active in working with our policy makers and the Corps of Engineers to express the economic importance to U.S. soybean farmers of maintaining shipping on the Mississippi River," Censky said. "And by doing that, we did see the removal of these rock pinnacles much sooner than would have happened normally."
On Tuesday, Sen. Blunt also released a statement supporting the Corps' efforts.
"I'm pleased the Corps has heeded my calls and continues to take positive steps in the rock removal process to help prevent a crisis on the Mississippi River," Blunt said. "This is a step in the right direction, and I urge the Corps to continue monitoring water levels and to ensure the maintenance of commercial navigation."
The Corps noted that they have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation to avoid and minimize impacts to the environment during the rock removal process.