By Kavanaugh Breazeale
VICKSBURG, Mississippi — The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers' Vicksburg District encompasses 68,000 square miles across three states and seven major river basins. One of the primary missions of the district is to support navigation across its area of responsibility. This includes the shallow draft harbors and ports of Greenville, Vicksburg, Rosedale, Yellow Bend, Lake Providence, Madison Parish, and Claiborne County. Each of these ports is vital to the local economy and to the nation as a whole.
Vicksburg District's maintenance of these ports ensures the delivery of raw materials, manufactured goods and crops, which the local economies depend on for their survival and growth. During fiscal year 2011, despite historic flooding, shipped a total of 9,166,000 of commercial tonnage, and during the past five years have shipped an average of 9,190,000 commercial tons per year.
The ports provide employment to more than 5,000 workers and support an annual payroll of more than $98.6 million; however, the total economic impact and employment supported by these ports go far beyond the aforementioned values.
Each year the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works closely with its partners and port commissions to determine the maintenance requirements for each of the harbors and ports. These efforts, coupled with the Vicksburg District's routine surveys of the harbors, enable the district to forecast future maintenance dredging requirements and submit annual budget requests to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters to keep the ports operating.
During conditions such as low or high water that may adversely affect port operations, the district is able to respond by adjusting its maintenance dredging schedule to keep the ports in operation as long as possible within the available funding. Also, in extreme conditions such as the low water conditions this year, the district is able to seek additional Federal funding to maintain these vital resources to the local and regional economies. However, in the era of competing priorities and demands for Federal funds to operate and maintain water resource infrastructure and declining Federal budgets, the opportunity to receive additional Federal dredging funds is limited.
Without the vital work performed by the Vicksburg District and its partners to keep these ports and navigational channels open, goods and materials would cost more to ship and would vastly increase the number of semi trucks on the road that would also lead to increase wear and tear on transportation routes.
A study by the Iowa Department of Transportation compared shipping by barge, semi truck and rail. The following data shows how efficient it is to ship by barge versus the other two methods. A single barge on the Mississippi River can move 22,500 tons of material versus a single large semi truck that can only move 26 tons or a rail car that can move only 112 tons. In addition, the use of the Mississippi River to ship goods is much more economical and environmentally friendly.
A ton of goods can be shipped 540 miles by barge on a single gallon of fuel versus 70 miles when shipped by semi truck or 420 miles when shipped by rail. Another way to compare the efficiency of using the Mississippi River is that it would take 870 large semi trucks or two 100 car trains to ship the equivalent of a 15 barge tow.