Missouri River

The Missouri River currently cannot support barge traffic because of the low river level, which is typical for this time of year.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers is planning a study on ways to improve navigation on the Missouri River in 2021.

The current navigation season runs between April 1 and Dec. 1. Buchanan County Commissioners sent a letter to Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., this month to request additional water be released from Gavins Point Dam.

The Corps is committing $500,000 towards that research, and the timing comes as one of three endangered species on the Missouri River, the interior least tern, is coming off the list.

Graves applauded the Corps monetary commitment to research navigation.

“We still need to put the priorities of people ahead of the priorities of building habitat for these two species,” Graves said. “We’re not even completely sure too, when it comes to just how endangered they are.”

The piping plover that lives along the Missouri River is currently listed as threatened, and the pallid sturgeon remains endangered.

Kasey Whiteman works for the Missouri River Field Station for the Missouri Department of Conservation and oversees the searches for baby pallid sturgeon in Missouri during the spring months.

“(MDC) supports all aspects of the Missouri River and supports our livelihood to live around the river,” Whiteman said. “There’s still gains that can be made to benefit all of those purposes to make all of that habitat better, not just for the fish, but for everybody.”

TransPort 360 is the operator of the St. Joseph Port Authority in between Stockyards Expressway and the river, just south of U.S. Highway 36. The company has brought just about everything in by barge, even wind turbines in 2020, and sent out things like soy beans from Northwest Missouri that ended up all around the world.

“Just looking forward to this year, we will get the wind energy back here come spring, (and) we’ve got some other feed ingredient companies coming in,” said Jason Laipple, general manager at TransPort 360. “We’re doing some projects here at the plant to increase our capabilities as far as loading barges, grain storage.”

The current conveyor belt system from barge to the 10,000-ton storage facility allows the staff to offload a barge within a single workday, but the new system design could cut that time in half.

Barges still could travel up and down the river during the winter months, but that is typically when the Corps releases less water. The current level of the river is around four and a half feet.

“A 12-foot level will give us a chance to get the barge crews up here – they’ll be able to get good tows,” Laipple said. “The barges themselves are 40-foot wide by 200-foot long, and once you fill in with 1,600 ton, they’re (submerged) about nine feet.”

Every full barge of 1,600 tons is equal to about 55 semi truck loads.

Ryan Hennessy can be reached at ryan.hennessy@newspressnow.com. Follow him on twitter: @NPNowHennessy.