Demopolis river traffic sees little impact

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-In the wake of Hurricane Katrina many people wondered what the situation with barge traffic on the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers would become. The major question at hand was whether barge traffic would be diverted from New Orleans ports to Mobile the impact this would have on Demopolis.

So far, the impact has been minimal. Fred Hansard, of the Demopolis Yacht Basin, said they have seen very little impact from the storm as far as cargo was concerned.

“We haven’t really seen much more traffic than usual,” Hansard said. “We expect our dry storage to pick up some, but so far it has been about the same.”

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He said because of the immense size of the Mississippi, it would be difficult to completely close it down.

“As far as the Mississippi River, it is too wide and too big,” Hansard said. “It would take a lot to shut it down.”

Some ports in the Mississippi were closed during the storm, but it did not take long to get them back on track. The biggest concern has been with night traffic.

The lower Mississippi River was opened for daytime transits to ships with a draft of 35 feet or less Friday. The Captain of the port of New Orleans, under the authority of the Port and Waterways Safety Act, established a safety zone from the Southwest Pass sea buoy to mile marker 235, which is near the Highway 190 Bridge in Baton Rouge. The safety zone prevents vessels with a draft greater than 35 feet from entering the Lower Mississippi River unless the Captain of the Port of New Orleans has granted them permission.

Deep draft vessels transiting within this safety zone are restricted to daylight only transits and are restricted to one way traffic between mile markers including mile minus 20 (Southwest Pass Entrance) to minus two (in the vicinity of Cupits Gap), mile 87 to mile 119 and mile 151 to mile 226.

The Captain of the Port of New Orleans determined the vessel draft restriction based on the bottom surveys conducted on the lower Mississippi River by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The daylight transit restriction was established after the information gathered by coast Guard aerial over flights and visual surveys, which showed approximately 70 percent of the navigational aids damaged or missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was gathered. Currently, the Coast Guard is working closely with industry to repair and replace these navigational aids needed to safely navigate at night.

Safety inspections of all oil and hazardous materials bulk liquid transfer facilities were conducted last week as well. Less than half the facilities between Huey P. Long and sunshine Bridge are operational. Nearly 100 percent of the facilities up river of the Sunshine Bridge are operational.

The lower Mississippi remains open to tug and barge traffic with no restrictions.