Sen. Roy Blunt asking Obama for emergency declaration due to low river levels


by Angie Weidinger / News 4

Posted on November 27, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 27 at 10:40 PM

ST. LOUIS ( -- Missouri Senator Roy Blunt and others are asking President Obama for an emergency declaration to keep commerce moving along the Mississippi River.  Many fear without it Missouri and other states face an economic disaster. 

Last Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers began reducing the flow of water from the Missouri River into the Mississippi.  Predictions are the water will get so low around St. Louis that in two weeks, barge traffic will be restricted and might have to come to a halt.  An estimated $7 billion of cargo normally travels the stretch of river from St. Louis to Cairo, Illinois in December and January.  And many of the items are things we use on a daily basis.

“Anything from coal to grains for exports, cements for building products, sugar for food products, petroleum products that keep the refineries open, finished steel, raw materials for steel mills, salt for road salt to keep us safe on the highways for winter time,” explained Marty Hettel, Senior Manager of Bulk Sales for AEP River Operations and a member of the Waterways Council.

It would take 10,000 trucks and 2500 rail cars to transport the same amount of goods that go up and down the Mississippi River on a daily basis.

“You just can’t put that tonnage over land or rail,” said Hettel.  “It’s just not going to be economically feasible or physically feasible.”

Without a Presidential declaration of emergency that would direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to release water from the Missouri River reservoirs and immediately remove expose rock pinnacles also impeding the flow of commerce, waterway operators expect delayed or canceled shipments and potential area job loss.

“Fleeting services that repair barges, shift barges, fuel barges, grocery stores that deliver groceries to the boats all up and down from Cairo to Chicago, if we won’t have the barges coming into them, they won’t have work to do,” said Hettel.

And the clock is ticking.  Every day without water flow could mean more days of disrupted barge service. 

Rep. Roy Blunt acknowledged Tuesday that there is some friction between the northern states and southern states affected by this situation. 

“They need to appreciate the fact that we need that water even though they’d rather not get rid of it and there are times they’d like to get rid of water that we’d rather not have, but it becomes the only reasonable option,” said Rep. Blunt.