EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — The relentless winter has not only affected daily commuters in their travels, but river and semi-truck grain traffic as well.
Parts of the Ohio and Illinois rivers have been frozen for weeks, creating havoc for those trying to get grain to the Gulf of Mexico.
Barge traffic on the Illinois River reportedly came to a halt the week of Feb. 7 and the 14 days of below-freezing temperatures has not helped to get traffic moving, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lee Lipp, head of the grain merchandising department for the northeastern Ohio-based Agland Co-op, said the past couple of weeks has been a struggle for the co-op’s barge-loading facility on the Ohio River at East Liverpool, Ohio.
He said there were no barges loaded the first week of February at East Liverpool.
“We spent a week totally froze up,” said Lipp.
He said the river was frozen and there was no deicing method that was going to work to get a barge in for loading.
Lipp said the ride on the river isn’t the only issue.
When barges come in to dock to be loaded, they first have to be cleaned out.
“They are steel. When we spray the water into them, it just turns into ice. When it’s 5 below zero, we don’t even try it. There is no amount of turbo heaters inside of the barge that can keep it from freezing,” said Lipp.
However, traffic is slowly beginning to get moving again on the upper Ohio River, Lipp said.
He said Agland Co-op crews used turbo heaters and thinned the ice enough at the dock to get barges to it.
Once back on the river, however, barges have been stuck and require other boats to push them through ice jams, according to Lipp.
Barge operator Campbell Transportation Company Inc. is moving vessels, but fears the worst is yet to come.
Steve Johnson, a logistics coordinator for Campbell Transportation, said grain barges are moving through the Ohio River system, but face delays.
Johnson said grain being loaded onto barges near Cincinnati is running, but traffic is restricted and slow. He added that tow sizes are also cut back, but are moving.
Johnson said there is a bottleneck near Cairo, Ill., where traffic is moving slowly, if at all, on the Illinois River, which is causing backups at the port near Cairo.
He also said there is no movement on the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania right now because of ice.
This video is from Campbell Transportation and their perspective of the ice conditions this month.
When it melts
Johnson added that river traffic is not out of the woods and expects “it will get worse before it gets better.”
Sooner or later, the ice will thaw and will cause problems on the upper Ohio River for ship traffic.
Johnson said he is not sure if this week’s milder weather will be enough to cause problems in ice melting, but he worries about a fast warm up.
He said if the area gets an eventual warm up, the ice will melt at a timely manner. If it melts too quickly and the ice from the Allegheny jars loose, it will cause a problems for the upper Ohio River.
Johnson explained if the ice pack becomes dislodged and gets to the locks and dams, then it will cause problems for barges trying to haul cargo.
“It (melting ice) could be a real problem in that last 100 miles of the upper Ohio River, if we get too fast of a melt,” said Johnson.
River traffic has not been the sole issue this winter.
Lipp said truck traffic hauling grain has also been a problem. He said many drivers don’t even attempt to haul when there is snow on the roads and some have trouble getting out of the farms even when there isn’t snow on the roads.