Rumors that Continental Cement is having trouble getting barges to and from its Hannibal plant on the drought-starved Mississippi River are apparently just that ... rumors.
“As of yet we’re doing OK,” said Mark Strieker, the company’s vice president of finance and administration.
Part of the reason that Continental is not being impacted is because of where it’s shipping to and from.
“We do move a lot of it (product) by barge, but we head up to the Quad Cities area and down to St. Louis. Most of the problems you hear about are St. Louis and south,” said Strieker.
On Friday, Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard officials said they believe that efforts being taken to keep a key stretch of the river channel open about 150 miles south of St. Louis will be sufficient.
Shipping groups warned last week that the waterway in that area could drop to a point - 3 feet on the river gauge - in which barge weight restrictions would have to be further tightened, effectively halting shipping.
Drafts, or the portion of each barge that is submerged, already are limited to 9 feet in the middle Mississippi. Officials with a river shipping trade group say that if drafts are restricted to 8 feet or lower, many operators will shut down.
According to Strieker, some shipping challenges were seen by Continental Cement in 2012.
“We had some problems this summer when they were doing dredging at different points where the settling got bad,” he said. “I guess we’re not anticipating bad, bad problems yet, but we’re watching it.
“Our problems are not as bad as people that are trying to move grain all the way down to New Orleans for example.”
The Courier-Post contacted St. Louis-based Bunge, which has a grain terminal in East Hannibal, Ill. However, a spokesperson with the company declined to discuss how the low river levels are impacting its shipping.
While Bunge is mum on the drought’s impact on its operations, Continental Cement acknowledges that it has formulated a backup plan should river levels continue to drop.
“Alternatives are you would have to truck, but I don’t see that. If it’s shut down for long durations it does become a problem moving that much product by truck,” said Strieker. “The most economical way for most companies there on the river is to move by barge.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)