Barge traffic continues for now

Published 12:02 am Monday, May 9, 2011

VIDALIA — Traffic coming down the Mississippi has not yet been restricted, but a U.S. Coast Guard official said that could change at any time.

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Lower Mississppi River Sector Ryan Gomez said even with the high river levels, there are currently no restrictions on water traffic near Natchez and Vidalia.

“The closures just depend on the rivers and the levels at the time,” he said. “And currently there are no restrictions in place.”

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While the Coast Guard is in charge of the traffic on the river, Gomez said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sends recommendations for any restrictions or closures.

“Everything is dependant on what the current situations are at each location,” he said.

Gomez said there has only been one closure on the Mississippi River — near Memphis — as a result of the high river levels, and that section has already been reopened.

“The projected crest was lower than what they thought so they removed the closure,” he said.

Gomez said the Coast Guard is constantly watching the river, and any problem areas are immediately addressed.

“When the river hits certain heights, we send out broadcasts and messages recommending speeds and things of that nature for the mariners to use as a basis,” he said. “But it is really up to the mariner on how they want to operate their vessel.”

Gomez said river traffic near bridges is the biggest area of concern for the vessels.

“We send out the recommendations for when they transit through the bridges,” he said.

While the recommendations are not enforced, Gomez said certain areas will have restrictions if conditions worsen.

Gomez said in the reopened area near Memphis, all vessels are required to check in and out with the Coast Guard before they head out, travel at the slowest possible speed and travel as close to the left bank as possible.

“These are just precautions and safety concerns,” he said.

“We have had nothing above our normal traffic concerns,” he said. “All of our operations have stayed the same.”

Gomez said while there are currently no causes for concern for river traffic that could change at any moment.

“We just have to sit back and wait, he said.