US Coast Guard closes Mississippi river at Natchez, causes backup

17 May 2011 20:49  [Source: ICIS news]

Flooding along the Mississippi riverHOUSTON (ICIS)--The closure of the Mississippi river at Natchez, Mississippi, was causing vessel traffic to back up, a co-owner of a barge company said on Tuesday.

The Mississippi river was closed on Sunday at Natchez, Mississippi, which is across from Vidalia, Louisiana, according to the US Coast Guard.

Vidalia, in turn, is about 90 miles (145 km) upriver from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Downriver from Baton Rouge are several chemical plants and refineries.

As such, the closure was disrupting shipments between Louisiana's chemical corridor and companies upriver from Natchez, Mississippi.

The closure is backing up vessel traffic, causing congestion and holding up the shipment of millions of dollars worth of products, said Austin Golding, co-owner of Golding Barge, a tank-barge operator that specialises in petroleum products and petrochemicals.

Moreover, the water level at Natchez - already at major flood stage - is forecasted to continue rising, according to the National Weather Service. By Saturday, water levels should reach 63 feet (19 metres), up from the current 61.6 feet.

The Mississippi river at Natchez was closed to protect the levee system; to protect the Natchez water front; and to protect the Vidalia city front outer flood barrier, according to the Coast Guard.

In Vidalia, the rising Mississippi threatened a hospital, a convention centre and a hotel, according to the Town Talk local newspaper.

The closure at Natchez is the latest development disrupting shipments from the chemical corridor on the lower Mississippi river.

According to the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, the Port Allen Route is closed.

The Port Allen Route connects Baton Rouge to Morgan City, Louisiana, Golding said.

The high water itself is making it more difficult to ship products, he said.

The rising water is increasing the speed of the river's current, he said. Mariners must be wary about bridges, levees and debris drifting in the river.

Those and other challenges are working together to make shipping much more difficult and expensive, Golding said.

Ultimately, those expenses could make transit too expensive, he said. As a result, companies may choose to withhold shipments and wait out the high water.

Golding said that it could take a month before shipping conditions return to normal.

On the other hand, the opening of the Morganza Spillway should take pressure off the Mississippi river from Baton Rouge down to New Orleans, Louisiana.

That, in turn, will likely prevent the closure of the port of New Orleans, Golding said.

By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645

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