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Barge businesses have hard time staying afloat

7:31 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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By Ashley Yarchin

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KSDK) - There are big fears along the Mississippi River. Low water levels have decreased the amount of product traveling down the waterway by about 55 percent, so now some businesses are taking a beating.

"Where normally there's a backlog of maybe three-to-four weeks of work, five or six weeks sometimes, we have a backlog of a week to 10 days," explained Dave Heyl, the CFO, of JB Marine Service.

He said Monday that since the river is now roughly 17 feet below the norm for this time of year, his business in cleaning and repairing barges has dropped by 15-to-20 percent.

"Biggest fear is if the water levels get so low that companies won't move their barges because of the danger it would prose to damaging their equipment, that the barges won't be moving on the Mississippi River, therefore, our work would become very slow or stop," Heyl went on to say.

But the best visual of all just may be JB's old office building, which was on a floating barge. Employees had to move out Friday because it now stands at a 25-35 percent tilt.

"It's like a fun house," Heyl said as he walked through it. "You need to hang on the walls when you walk down the hallway. You can get dizzy. If it's wet, you can slide, slip."

"That's why we're doing the long-term improvements that we're doing," said Mike Petersen of the Army Corp of Engineers in response to the catalogue of issues so many are experiencing as a result of the drought.

The Corp's efforts as of late include 24/7 drudging for the last six months, using reservoirs and dams and deepening the channel.

But he added, "There's only so much we can do."

It won't happen yet, but if things really worsen, Heyl said jobs cuts could come up. To fight that in the future, folks in the barge industry are putting pressure on lawmakers and the president to allow more water from the Missouri in the meantime.



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