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Stretch of river still closed after barges sink

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Posted: May 22, 2011 2:39 AM
Updated: May 22, 2011 2:39 AM
Source: AP

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Topics: Baton Rouge, Mississippi River, Coast Guard

BATON ROUGE - A five-mile stretch of the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge remained closed Saturday, a day after an accident on the high, fast-moving waterway resulted in the sinking of three barges.

The river was closed while officials assessed whether the barges posed a navigation hazard. The Coast Guard said plans for salvaging the vessels were being made but it was unclear when the salvage operation would begin. No injuries or pollution were reported.

The sunken barges were carrying corn. They were part of a20-barge tow that was being pushed downriver Friday at a time when high water and fast current have made navigation difficult. One of
the barges struck a dock, two struck the U.S. Highway 190 bridge and three sank.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. spokesman Roman Blahoski said Saturday that the company has submitted a salvage plan for approval by the Coast Guard and the Corps of Engineers. He had no details on the plan but said salvage operations will begin as soon as the necessary government approval is granted.

Port of New Orleans spokesman Chris Bonura said the river's closing hasn't had an impact on international shipping and was only having a "minor effect" on industries that rely on barges to move
their products domestically.

"We're still continuing to get international commerce at all the ports," he said. "Ships can't get past the 190 bridge anyways, because the river starts to shallow up in that area."

Bonura said companies may turn to other forms of transportation, such as trains, if the river remains closed to barges for several days.

"Barges are important, but they're not the only way to move cargo," he said. "If it's a short-term closure, it's an inconvenience, but it's not going to have a major impact on commerce." Bonura said the products most commonly moved by barge are grain, coal, steel and certain chemicals, including fertilizer.

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