Shipping on the Mighty Mississippi has come to a standstill around Winona and Alma, Wis., and the commercial channel could remain closed for several weeks.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is continuing dredging operations in Pool 4 and 6, dealing with heavy sediment carried downstream by heavy rains, said Corps spokesperson Patrick Moes. It wasn’t an issue earlier in the season because of high water levels, he said, but has become a challenge now that the river is returning to normal levels.
A portion of Pool 4, located between Wabasha and Alma, was closed to commercial navigation July 19. An area of Pool 6 near Winona closed on July 23 after a vessel ran aground near Blacksmith Slough. Moes said 17 vessels have been affected by the closure, along with 120 loaded barges and 32 empty containers.
Emergency dredging operations for both pools was announced on July 24, and the Corps has a number of public and private dredging fleets including the Dredge Goetz working to clear a 9-foot navigation channel in those locations.
Winona’s commercial harbor has come to a standstill, said economic development director Lucy McMartin. Some businesses along the harbor were filling empty barges this week for when the channel re-opens, but have otherwise been idled.
Emergency dredging operations will continue until a 200-foot wide pilot channel has been cleared in both locations. The process could take nearly two weeks, the Corps estimated, with work at Pool 4 planned to be finished around Aug. 10 and Pool 6 two days earlier.
Until the dredging operations are completed, Moes said, the channels will remain closed to commercial traffic.
Shipping requires a nine-foot navigation channel to safely operate, Moes said, comparing the channel to the freeway system. Unlike the freeways, however, there are no other highways or back roads for barges to travel when the main system is closed.
“They’re just not able to get through,” Moes said. “There is just not enough depth in the river.”