published Thursday, May 19th, 2011

River trade flows again on Tennessee

From Chattanooga to New Orleans, the swollen river arteries that help supply the region’s economic lifeblood have been clogged.

But as the surging waters flow downstream, Tennessee barge operators said Wednesday river commerce is flowing again upstream of the Mississippi on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland River tributaries.

“For a couple of weeks, the high water forced the closing of the Kentucky lock and that was certainly hampering activities on the Tennessee,” said Cline Jones, executive director of the Tennessee River Valley Association, a trade group that promotes commercial navigation on the Tennessee River. “But things in our area seem to be improving now.”

The lower portions of the Mississippi River remain near historically high water marks, and river traffic is moving only one barge at a time in Vidalia, La., where levees are close to being topped.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which controls the flow of the Tennessee River that carries nearly 50 million tons of shipments a year, had to hold back the river at its Kentucky Dam earlier this month because of high water on the Ohio River.

That forced the Kentucky lock to shut down any movement through the dam for nearly two weeks.

“Things have certainly improved, but it’s still a pretty awful situation on the Mississippi,” said Keel Hunt, a spokesman for Ingram Barge Co., in Nashville, the nation’s largest barge operator with more than 4,000 vessels.

“The Ohio River is completely open again, so in terms of this part of the country we’re pretty much back to normal.”

But with barges held up on the Mississippi, some river shipments are still being delayed.

“It affects our operations when shipments can’t go to and from New Orleans, but generally this has been a very unusual springtime,” said Pete Serodino, president of Serodino Inc., a Chattanooga-based barge operator.

“The rains along with the snowmelt hit the Mississippi and Ohio River valley hard, but it really didn’t affect much of the Tennessee Valley at all,” he said.

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