Limited river traffic allowed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

VIDALIA — The reopening of the 15-mile section of the Mississippi River near Natchez late Tuesday may have halted a blow to the national economy, but the wakes from the ship movement are still having an effect, locals say.

River traffic is now limited to only one vessel at a time through the 15-mile stretch, due to the historic high water levels of the river, and vessels must travel at the slowest possible speed that is safe.

Even with the restrictions, Vidalia Dock and Storage owner Carla Jenkins said the wake from the monitored traffic is still causing damage to her business.

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Vidalia Dock and Storage provides tug services for area river facilities, services grain elevators and operating boats that work up and down the river. It’s buildings sit directly on the river’s edge.

“We had some seepage water come into the building (Tuesday),” she said. “They made some test runs (Tuesday), and 20 to 30 minutes after the barges went by we had waves coming up and hitting the building.”

Jenkins said while the water looks calm after a vessel passes, it eventually makes its way to the bank.

“You can see the waves go away on the surface, but it continues to go toward the banks after that,” she said.

Even with her business taking damage, Jenkins said she understands why the Coast Guard made the decision to open the section of the river back up.

“There are millions of dollars of goods that go down that river every year,” she said. “And to shut down a section of it just means you are crippling those businesses that need to travel down the river.”

When the river at Natchez was closed Tuesday, the world economy took note, questioning what the international impact could be if the river stayed closed.

Across the river in Natchez, Adams County Port Director Anthony Hauer said the river traffic is having a minimal effect on business at the port as of yet.

“We do understand that when you halt river traffic or slow it down, there will probably be some monetary loss,” he said. “But so far that is not registering with us.”

Hauer said the main thing that has been affected is the barge traffic they receive.

“The barges that are affected by the river traffic only represent a small percentage of our business,” he said.

“Our other business opportunities have gone on unstopped.”

The port also ships goods through rail and road.

Hauer said the port’s barge numbers have only declined by approximately five total since the high water levels.

“As soon as the water shows steadiness again, those barges will still be available to us,” he said.

Hauer also said the port’s structures are not being permanently damaged by barge wakes.

“The only noticeable difference from the tows that we have seen has been the speed at which they are traveling,” he said. “The wakes are minimized by the speed they are traveling, and we are seeing no damage.”

The movement of traffic down the stretch had been shut down Monday by the U.S. Coast Guard after wakes from vessels traveling down the river combined with the high water levels threatened to put additional pressure on the area’s levees.

The traffic was partially reopened Tuesday evening after several tests by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed that monitoring and placing restrictions on the traffic traveling through the area would cause minimal damage.

Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said after meeting with the Coast Guard about the river traffic, he believes things will be back to normal in the next 10 days.