By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — Illinois River navigation was reopened by the U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday, May 4, allowing the resumption of barge transportation of agricultural commodities such as grain and fertilizers after movements were idled for more than two weeks. At issue was the Marseilles Dam, which was damaged April 18 when seven barges broke free from a tow during heavy weather and came to rest against the dam.
Salvage and repair operations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prompted restricted navigation in areas upstream of the dam, while barge commerce was closed downstream near Peoria. But after the assistant secretary and commanding general of the Corps visited the Marseilles Dam to survey the continuing operations on Friday, May 3, their review concluded the dam was stable and the Corps allowed river navigation to resume with safety restrictions.
“Out of all the flood fighting the Corps of Engineers is doing, getting this dam fixed is our top priority,” said Army Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, after surveying the dam.
As of Farm World press time, four of the seven loosened barges were successfully removed while three remained partially submerged. An A-frame crane has been employed to lift and remove those barges once salvage efforts resume. The Corps has begun 24-hour operations to construct a temporary rock dike to help reduce river flows and facilitate repairs to the dam. Around 300,000 tons of rock is expected to be placed until the dike is completed.
Two dam gates are currently inoperable due to the damage, prompting the Corps to advise river users that a nine-foot deep commercial navigation channel may not be sustainable at the Marseilles Dam.
The damage to the Marseilles Dam was only one of many flooding issues up and down the Illinois River that hindered river, rail and road navigation for several days following storms that led to record river crests across central and southeast Illinois. Flooding in watershed areas of the Illinois - in addition to the those in the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers - caused extensive damage to farmland, which led the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to issue precautions to farmers and other Illinois residents when disposing of flood debris and cleaning contaminated areas.
Sealed drums, propane tanks and other pressurized gas cylinders with unknown contents washing up on properties should be referred to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency at (800) 782-7860. Local propane distributors should be able to identify tank owners through serial numbers.
In addition, health departments will have information or provide help with testing of private wells that may have been contaminated by flood water, the IEPA advised.
Agricultural debris such as bags, cartons, dry bedding, crop residue and structural materials may be burned on the site without a permit, according to the IEPA.
Open burning permits required for disposal of clean wood, building debris and lumber are available through the IEPA website or can be requested by calling (217) 524-5023. IEPA also provided phone contacts for questions regarding debris disposal for landfill waste (217-524-3300), open burning materials (217-782-3637) and outdoor chemical contamination (217-782-7860) for immediate emergencies.
Record river crests from April flooding were achieved at measuring points along the Illinois River and its tributaries in Henry (32.81 ft.), Peoria (29.35 ft.), Kingston Mines (26.58 ft.), Copperas Creek (25.52 ft.), Havana (27.78 ft.), Beardstown (29.8 ft.),
Wyoming/Indian Creek (23.9 ft.), London Mills/Spoon River (undetermined), Seville/Spoon River (35.82 ft.) and Green Valley/Mackinaw River (28.48 ft.), according to the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office.
The severe spring weather also disrupted freight rail shipments moving along the Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi and Wabash rivers, with BNSF, UPRR, Norfolk Southern and CSX all reporting service delays due to bridges and main line track sections closed due to high water. In addition, a number of state highways were closed or restricted to traffic due to the flooding, which dumped up to eight inches of rain over large sections of central Illinois.
IEMA representatives are currently traveling county by county to assess damages in the hardest hit areas of Illinois. Citizens within counties approved for Federal Disaster Declaration status will be able to apply for low interest federal loans or grant programs. IEMA officials are urging those who sustained flood damage to contact local emergency management officials immediately in order to engage the assessment process.