|By TIM ALEXANDER
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A series of educational barge tours along the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers will be held in early August, sponsored by the Illinois Corn Growers Assoc. (ICGA), Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Soybean Assoc. (ISA), Iowa Corn Growers Assoc., and Midwest Area River Coalition (MARC 2000).
According to Jessica Murphy, special projects coordinator for the ICGA, the hosting organizations for the tours support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ push for an overhaul of the 1930s-era locks and dams spanning the rivers.
A bill providing for the upgrades, along with a comprehensive watershed management and environmental restoration package, is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate. The bill, known as WRDA (Water Resources Development Act), was overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives in 2005.
Illinois River barge tours are set for Aug. 1 (LaSalle/Ottawa, Ill.), Aug. 2 (Peoria/Pekin, Ill.), and Aug. 3 (Beardstown/Meredosia, Ill.), while Mississippi River tours are scheduled for Aug. 4 (Alton, Ill.), Aug. 7 (Quincy, Ill.), Aug. 8 (Burlington, Iowa), Aug. 9 (Bettendorf, Iowa), and Aug. 11 (Dubuque, Iowa).
“On the tour, participants will have the chance to view the river through the eyes of the barge crew,” Murphy said.
“They will see how a lock operates, how river traffic is affected by the lock and dam system, and will observe life along the river.
“During the tour, speakers will talk on the economic impact of the river, including both agriculture and the environment.”
A representative from the Corps of Engineers will speak on lock and dam and watershed issues, and officials from the ICGA and ISA will host presentations on the need for river infrastructure upgrades.
“Local businesses who utilize the river will also be represented as they speak on the impact that the river has on their company. Participants will have the opportunity to see the need for upgrades in the river system,” Murphy said.
WRDA proponents maintain that the rivers’ antiquated lock and dam systems cost Midwestern farmers and businesses millions of dollars per year in extra manpower and due to restricted opportunities in global markets caused by delays in moving goods to the Gulf of Mexico.
They point to the fact that a normal “tow” consists of 15 barges and is approximately 1,200 feet long - though the majority of Illinois and Mississippi River locks are only 600 feet long.
That requires a tow to separate in half before passing through the locks, causing a backup of river traffic and resulting in tens of millions of dollars in annual losses to U.S. shipping, agricultural and industrial commodities, reportedly.
Because one 15-barge tow can convey the equivalent of some 870 semi trucks worth of cargo, an upgrade of the river systems takes on added importance, proponents say.
Each barge tour lasts 3-4 hours, with morning registration at 7:30 a.m. and afternoon registration at 11 a.m. (some of the tours will be mornings only; call for details).
All participants must be 12 years of age or older.
Organizers caution that boarding a barge may be difficult for those with disabilities or mobility restrictions.
Tours are free, though optional services such as lunch and return bus transportation, when necessary, are available for nominal fees.
To obtain a brochure or for more information, call the ICGA at 309-557-3257. E-mail inquiries should be directed to Jessica Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ICGA encourages those wishing to attend a tour to register by July 22.
This farm news was published in the July 19, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.