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Hickman harbor, funding drying up — official says

Hickman harbor, funding drying up — official says
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
Terry Roncali delivered the bad news to officials at the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority on Monday.
Roncali, the port captain, called the riverport office to announce the southwest Kentucky harbor will likely have to be shut down by Friday due to the low water level at the mouth of the riverport.
Roncali works for WEPFR Marine, which is responsible for managing the Hickman harbor. The company has managed the harbor for the past 12 years.
Roncali, who has been with WEPFR Marine for 30 years, told The Messenger Monday he has never seen the Hickman riverport in such bad shape.
He monitors the Missis-sippi River water levels at Cairo, Ill., on a daily basis and the water level there has reached 17.1 feet and is forecast to drop to 14.5 feet by Friday. What that means for the Hickman harbor is the water level at the mouth of the harbor will drop to around six feet by Friday and that’s too low for barge traffic to navigate.
“That’s not even close,” Roncali said.
He said barge traffic needs the river level to be at least 10 feet in order to safely navigate in and out of the harbor.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Roncali said. “I’ve never experienced anything as bad as this.”
Spring flooding along the Mississippi River caused enormous amounts of silt to flow downriver and into the harbor. All that silt has basically created an embankment at the mouth of the harbor and a lack of rainfall has caused the river level to drop, exposing the silt embankment.
Also, riverport authority director Greg Curlin reported to The Messenger recently that federal funding to dredge the harbor has dried up. The harbor was not dredged this year and there are no federal funds budgeted to dredge the harbor this coming year, according to Curlin.
For barge traffic, the silt embankment, no dredging and low water level on the river have created a blockade into the harbor.
Roncali said there needs to be a significant rainfall upriver on the Ohio River and Mississippi River to bring the water level at the harbor back to a level that will accommodate barge traffic.
The harbor shutdown comes as no surprise to Roncali and others who have been watching the water level recede for months now.
In anticipation of the harbor closure, a meeting was held at Hickman’s county office building on Sept. 29. More than 80 farmers, businessmen and officials from across the region attended the meeting.
Also in attendance at the meeting was a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Memphis, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Congressman Ed Whitfield and a delegation of Obion County officials. Jimmy Williamson of Dyersburg, chairman of the Northwest Tennessee Regional Port Authority, was also in attendance at the meeting.
The Hickman harbor serves as a transportation hub for the entire region, serving industries and farmers across northwest Tennessee and southwest Kentucky.
The harbor’s impending shutdown will have a significant impact on the entire region, according to Amy Williamson, assistant director of the riverport authority.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 10.11.10

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