Dubuque company helping Mississippi River barge traffic - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque company helping Mississippi River barge traffic

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

One small family-owned eastern Iowa business is playing a major roll in fixing a national crisis that could impact the economy in a big way: the dropping Mississippi River levels and its impact on shipping.

Newt Marine in Dubuque is a third-generation family-owned and -operated general marine contracting business. A Newt Marine crew of about 20 people are working on the Mississippi River in Thebes, Ill., about 125 miles south of St. Louis. They are removing bedrock in the main channel that's threatening barge traffic and, therefore, the US economy.

Newt Marine's construction manager Dan Arnold said the US Army Corps of Engineers placed the work as high priority.

"There are several mounds of rock within the main channel area in the bedrock that are causing barges to hit bottom and not be able to get through, so we've been tasked with going down there and removing that rock," Arnold said Tuesday.

River levels are fine in Dubuque and along the upper Mississippi River, but this year's drought - foremost among several factors - has meant dropping river levels around St. Louis and south of that, which threatens barge traffic.

"There's so many things that the river transports," Arnold said, including grain, fuel and building materials. "There's billions of dollars' worth of goods that ship up and down. If this river channel gets to the point where they can't move through there, it can have a very negative effect on our economy overall."

Newt Marine and one other contracted company from elsewhere in the country will be blasting and removing bedrock along several critical miles of the main channel of the Mississippi River.

"At this point, we have about 20,000 pounds of dynamite ready to go on site, and we will probably drill somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,400 holes in the rock is what we have planned right now to break up the areas that need to be dynamited," Arnold said.

Removing the rock allows barges to pass through the main channel of the Mighty Mississippi without damage, keeping this water shipment route open from the Midwest down to the Gulf of Mexico.

"It is exciting to be part of the project that is so important politically and nationally to be able to go and respond," Arnold said.

The crew will be dumping the rock it removes from the dangerously-low portions of the river into nearby deep portions of the river, Arnold said, at the direction of the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Normally at this time of year, barge traffic is dwindling if not already halted along the upper Mississippi River, due to ice.

"[This project] gives us a chance to do some winter work where we would normally be shut down this time of year and our crews laid off," Arnold said.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has given Newt Marine 16-hour working days, Arnold said. They'll blast and remove rock from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. That eight-hour window in between is when barge traffic can pass.

Newt Marine is contracted for 30 days of work, which started this past weekend. Arnold said he could foresee another contract if there's more work to be done at the end of that period.

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