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June 2017 

CF Industries, Ingram Spotlighted

     Two UMWA member companies got a lot of exposure during President Donald Trump’s visit to Ohio last week.  Speaking at the Rivertowne Marina in Cincinnati, the President mentioned CF Industries and called attention to the Ingram boat m/v James Paul Ayers out on the river draped with a huge American flag.  The White House invited CF’s President and CEO Tony Will to the event.
     “We’re going to restore America’s industrial might, and I look here and… something,” Trump said.  He then turned to look at the boat and went on, “Those barges, they’ve been waiting for us to say hello. The captain says, ‘Please wave.’ Hello captain!”

     Prior to the trip, the White House Press office sent out a release that highlighted many of the points UMWA and other river groups have been talking about for years.
     “The waterways of the United States are vital for its industry and economic growth of the country, transporting everything from corn to steel and coal…” the release said. “According to the Department of Transportation, inland waterways support more than 270,000 jobs and $30.9 billion in economic activity. 60 percent of the grain meant for export uses inland waterways to reach the Gulf of Mexico. American steel production is entirely dependent on the inland waterways system. Up to 25 percent of the country’s energy cargo, including coal, and petroleum, are moved on inland waterways.”
     However, the White House noted, “The infrastructure of America’s inland waterways has been allowed to fall apart, causing delays and preventing the United States from achieving its economic potential.”

     While industry people are encouraged by the visit and the attention, there’s concern over the Administration’s proposed budget which talks about a new user fee on barge cargoes.  The Office of Management and Budget proposed an “annual fee” in addition to the existing 29-cent-a-gallon tax. 
     This is not the first time such a fee has been proposed – both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush floated the idea which never got out of any Congressional committee.

(Above) Crew of Ingram's m/v Ayers as shown on company's Facebook page: Front Row - Cheryl Wuelfing, David Miget, Nick Willis and John Walls. Back Row - Ben Cuff, Jason Roberts and Capt Todd Butts. Other shots from White House Press Office.


From the Executive Director...

Choking on Dredged Material
     In May, the Corps released a draft feasibility report and environmental assessment of its 40-year Lower Pool 4 dredged material management plan covering the Upper Mississippi River in Wabasha County, MN, and Buffalo and Pepin Counties, WI.
     To state the obvious, without Corps dredging programs, the vagaries of weather and laws of nature would make navigable channels impassable resulting in great harm to the riverine ecosystem, recreation, commercial navigation and regional and national economies. 
     According to Corps data, shipments via the nation’s inland waterway system save shippers (and ultimately consumers) $20.37 per ton compared to other modes; accordingly, the 15.4 million tons of barge freight through L/D 3 and L/D 4 saved consumers in excess of $13 million in 2015.
     Corps dredging programs also sustains the high quality wildlife habitat at the UMR National Wildlife and Fish Refuge while the seven boat accesses in Lower Pool 4 and dredged material placement islands throughout the pool are popular with recreational boaters.  Clearly, national and regional economic, environmental and recreational stakeholders benefit from the Corps’ dredging programs.
Pool 4 Traffic Management Plan
     In reviewing this draft feasibility report, we were struck by an obvious irony: The dependence of eco-friendly barge transportation upon a not too eco-friendly, yet partner in intermodal transport – trucks.  The Traffic Management Plan states that its primary goal is to determine how to move 226,000 CY of sand per year through a designated transfer site.  Depending on the time of year and amount of material transferred, this could vary from 17 to 75 days. 
     Paraphrased, the conclusion and recommendations (page A-16) states that as long as a currently non-existent road is ultimately built and un-safe intersections are addressed, the existing infrastructure is sufficient.  If those improvements are not made, however, routing will have to proceed along the normal inadequate trucking routes in and around Wabasha, MN.
     One of the shortcomings of this report is that it does not consider disposal sites or the need of dredged material beyond the Pool 4 area, such as the troublesome shortage of sand off Southeast Florida.  For example, the Insurance Journal publication reminded us that the 2016 Water Resources Development Act authorizes the Corps of Engineers to study the potential of using foreign sand, such as from the Bahamas, “to widen shorelines and protect coast from hurricanes” such as the ones that hit the Big Bend of northeastern Florida last year. 
     In its “Shrinking Shores” investigation, the Naples Daily News reported that the Miami area had exhausted their deposits of available offshore sand, leaving only sand that is too far offshore to retrieve or is nestled among  protected reefs or other underwater marine features.
     However a ban, backed by the U.S. dredging industry, on spending federal money on beach projects that use foreign sand stands in the way, and coastal communities can ill afford to forgo federal money for their beaches.
     What is an alternative solution for both Florida and other golf coast states?   Answer:  Provide authority and funding for the Corps to barge excess U.S. domestic sand from Lower Pool 4 to be used by Florida and gulf coast sites.  According to the Insurance Journal, the Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) is authorized to undertake a study of the economic and noneconomic costs, benefits and impacts of acquiring sediment from domestic and other sources for shoreline protection, hopefully in WRDA 2018.
     But is new WRDA 2018 legislation necessary to permit the Corps to barge domestic (not foreign) dredged sediments from the St. Paul District to the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division for distribution to gulf coast sites necessary?  After all, the Lower Pool 4 study states the need to find sites for an estimated 11 million cubic yards of material over the 40-year study period, but the Corps has found sites to handle only one-tenth of that amount.
     It’s true that the Corps can acquire property by paying the unwilling seller fair market value as required by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  We are not arguing that the Corps should be prohibited from using eminent domain, but shouldn’t that process be delayed until all alternatives have been considered, including some that are “outside the box” including the U.S. Gulf Coast?
     We understand further discussions with Wabasha are planned to discuss future road maintenance plans, but at present this issue remains an open question.  Since this is a 40-year plan requiring support from yet-uncommitted critical partner(s) and finding new dredge sites, the recommendation in this part of the study is, at best, problematic.  
Impact of Climate
     Climate is a perennial wildcard in its impact on regional and national flood risk.  Using climate and precipitation information from NOAA and the Corps' Civil Works Technical Report (2015), the Pool 4 plan identified a 2004 study which analyzed 42 daily streamflow gages throughout the U.S., nine of which are located within the Upper Mississippi Region.  The author of the 2004 study identified an increasing trend in river flow in the entire Mississippi River watershed including nine located within the Upper Mississippi Region, predicting significant "surplus" flow days and fewer drought periods in the latter part of that time period. 
      Stated differently, the Upper Mississippi Valley will likely get more precipitation and have fewer drought periods in future years.  More importantly, analysis of the region projects an increase in river flows and higher air temperatures for 2041-2070 relative to the end of the last century. 
While the Pool 4 plan recognizes that changes in water levels, rate of discharge, precipitation and land-use impact sediment discharge, those factors also make it difficult to determine the role climate change has on the entire dredge requirements matrix, said the 2015 report.
     That said, the plan further states that the role of climate change versus upstream land use is not needed at the project level, since the important thing is whether there are obvious changes that could affect conditions in the project area. The plan concludes that project design features should be adjusted if needed, however “engineering resilience”, that is using lessons learned from recent past successful and stable projects, will be used on projects over the 40-year time span of Lower Pool 4 report.
     In our opinion, this conclusion, while enticing, stops short of addressing the obvious ages-old problem of bank erosion, urban development and increased non-porous surfaces that continually add to the volume of water in Mississippi River tributaries such as the Lower Minnesota and Chippewa Rivers.  While bank erosion and non-porous surfaces are not a direct responsibility, the Corps, charged with maintaining a congressionally-mandated navigation channel, is forced to deal with the consequences of lapses in upstream water management with an uncertain and, at times, inadequate level of O&M funding.
Until the above two issues are acknowledged, the Corps will face increases to its already Herculean challenge of developing a 40 year program of dredged material management.
Disclaimer:  Thoughts and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author and not necessarily those of the Upper Mississippi Waterway Association or its members.

Other Items of Interest...

*  The United Soybean Board’s recent analysis says American growers have an edge on South American producers – for now.  The analysis pointed to USDA projections showing that while Brazilian producers depend on trucks for transportation, rail and river projects in the works there could cut transportation costs in half.

*  Just days before the President went to Ohio to talk about the need for river infrastructure renewal, the Corps of Engineers announced an unscheduled but urgent repair at the oldest lock on the Upper Mississippi.  The guidewall at Lock and Dam 15 was demolished and will be replaced over the summer.  Fortunately, because it was on the back of the structure, closure wasn’t necessary.  But Mike Cox, chief of the Rock Island District’s Operations Division, noted that a failure of the guidewall could have shut down the system.
      "Almost all of the locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River System, including the Illinois Waterway, are experiencing varying levels of problems due do the age of the infrastructure,” Cox says. “Our teams do a great job of ensuring critical maintenance is performed which has, to this point, prevented a catastrophic failure of the system. The locks and dams are critical to the nation’s economy as they provide the most efficient method to transport goods and commodities. Most of our system represents a single point of failure because there is only one lock chamber at most sites. So, if one lock experiences a failure, the whole navigation system would likely shut down, which would come with a high cost.”

*  A just completed feasibility study says a location near Muscatine, Iowa, could host a container terminal and port district.  The Muscatine City Council was told that there are no other ports of this kind north of St. Louis.  That follows reports of a proposed port terminal at Cairo, Ill. (see May Waterways).

* A first of its kind ‘LockFest’ at Allegheny River Lock 4 attracted a good turn out recently.  The Army Corps of Engineers says people attending learned about safe locking procedures and sharing the river with towboats and barges.

*  The Erie Canal is marking the 200th  anniversary of the ‘first dig’ with a show of relevance in 2017.  Genesee Brewery in Rochester, New York, is undergoing a modernization and needed to move a number of 60 x 20 foot beer vats to the brewery. “Those tanks are larger than anything we could ship by rail, highway, plane, so the natural choice was by the Erie Canal,” Brian Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation, said.

*   The Rochester PostBulletin’s ‘Answer Man’ says dredge material from Pool 4  (see Exec Dir's Column) is ‘surprisingly clean.’   The column noted that, “The dredged material consists of medium to coarse sand and is suitable for a number of applications, such as construction fill material and winter road maintenance. Because it is relatively contaminant free, it can also be placed in the water for such purposes as island construction or other ecosystem restoration projects. The material is also highly suitable for beach nourishment and/or recreation."   However, the column noted that dredged material is not suitable for fracking.
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