River ice slowing barge traffic

By Nick Kovatch on February 7 at 7:14am

The Illinois River at Meredosia is nearly completely frozen. Photo courtesy WICS ABC Newschannel 20.

Roadways aren’t the only mode of transportation impacted by this winter’s severe weather.

River traffic is also log jammed, and for those people and businesses that rely on the river for shipping, there’s major concern.

Low water levels combined with frigid temperatures are making it difficult for barges to move down the river. The situation is stopping a lot of grain movement — a real problem for agriculture markets.

The Illinois River is almost entirely iced over, creating problems for barge operators.

Dale Hadden of the Illinois Farm Bureau talked to our reporting partners at WICS ABC Newschannel 20.

“Barge companies that have to go up and down the Illinois River are dealing with a lot more ice. You push the tows through the ice. It just takes a lot more time. It takes more power,” said .

It’s also making it more difficult to determine when shipments will arrive.

“We grow some specialty crops, and they were supposed to be shipped sometime in the first fifteen days of February. That was the target date on the contract. I was told today that that will be pushed off to the last half of February because they can’t depend on when the barges are going to get up river, empty to them so they can load them and take them back to New Orleans to put on a ship,” Hadden said.

Not only are the brutal cold temperatures freezing the river, but it’s affecting the locks.

“There biggest trouble is there’s ice lodging up river and down river from the locks, which makes it harder for the locks to function,” said Jordan Bartels of Sunrise Ag.

When it takes more time and power to move freight, that means the costs go up for barge companies, and those costs get passed down to farmers.

“It’s reducing our basis bid. So in other words, basis is the difference between the Chicago board price and what we get paid for at a river terminal right now. So it has cost us about 20 cents just in the last couple weeks due to barge freight going up,” said Hadden.

Low river levels are also impeding costs.

“They can’t load the barges quite as full, so when you get snow melt and you get ice melt you get more water in the river, but for right now, I know they’re still loading eight foot drafts and usually a nine foot draft is what they load,” Hadden said.

Another concern is ice on the barges themselves. That can create a dangerous situation for barge operators.

It’s not just the low shipment of grain on the river that’s drawing concern. Salt and coal, two very important products for this time of year, are not moving as efficiently as they should. That’s key as many communities are running low on salt supplies, and now waiting for new shipments.