Dredging efforts underway to clear sandbars from Mississippi - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Dredging efforts underway to clear sandbars from Mississippi

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WINONA, Minn. (KTTC) -- Barges with loads of cargo remain at a standstill Tuesday along the Mississippi River. Now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading an immeasurable effort to clear the sandbars blocking the path.

The number one priority right now is to get the transportation commerce going, and dredging crews all along the Mississippi are working well into the night to clear the way for the many barges still awaiting their chance to reach their final destinations.

"Seeing sedimentation after a high water event isn't out of the ordinary, but seeing it at this magnitude is something we haven't seen in quite a while," said George Stringham of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It's all that sediment that is taking at least four crews and countless hours to dredge up over the next week. There are four pool sites along the Upper Mississippi where dredging crews are lifting loads of sediment off the river floor. "It's just your typical excavator," said Stringham, explaining the system used in Winona. "It reaches down, grabs the sediment and places it in the barge next to it."

Strong June floods created high waters along the river, dragging tons of sediment with them, creating sandbars, which are the culprit for this halt in barge travel. Some spots measure less than nine feet deep. In Wabasha, where nearly a dozen barges are stranded, crews are using the Dredge Goetz, a hydraulic method that works much faster than the mechanical ones used in Winona.

"It grabs and basically crawls its way up river," said Stringham. Before that can happen, the sediment is transferred in another way. A tugboat pushes loads of that sediment up to a station upstream where it is deposited. It is a slow process, and time is of the essence for the many barge captains counting down the minutes until they can depart. The blocked paths have already hurt the industry, but crews are working day and night to make sure in due time, it will be smooth sailing.

Dredging in Wabasha began Monday, and the sandbars should be cleared by this weekend. In Winona, the dredging effort began last Thursday, and should take 10 days to clear out -- making early next week the time when barges can finally move onward.

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