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Ice on Mississippi stalls barge traffic

LA CROSSE, Wis. - The late winter means ice is sticking around on the river longer.

It's putting a hold on barge traffic up and down the Mississippi in the La Crosse area.

Companies that usually ship their products by barge are having to find different ways to transport their material, and the lockmaster at Lock and Dam 8 is noticing.

"At this time last year, we had locked approximately 30 tow boats. It equaled over 200,000 tons of cargo," said Lock and Dam 8 Lockmaster Denise Lepke.

It's a different story this year on the Mississippi River. Lock and Dam 8 in Genoa hasn't even seen one barge yet this year even though the locks are open.

"Just this past week, we swung the upper gates," said Lepke.


"Typically in this area, the navigational season will open around March 20," said J.F. Brennan Project Manager Mike Binsfeld.

While the locks are open, the ice-blocked waterway is making business tough for companies like J.F. Brennan in La Crosse.

"We keep a lot of equipment down south. What it means is we can't get into this area right now," said Binsfeld. "Two weeks may not seem like a lot, but when you're down to hourly schedules and making sure people are in the right places and equipment is in the right place, it means a lot."

Binsfeld said the impact ultimately lands on the consumer.

"Bulk commodity carriers end up using alternate lines of transportation for their materials, which ultimately drive up prices for the end user -- which is you and I," said Binsfeld.

Seasonal workers are also feeling the impact of the icy river.

"We've got a lot of crews at home right now that work in this area that are waiting for the thaw to come back to work," said Binsfeld.

As soon as the ice melts, the locks will be ready.

"We are open for navigation and the industry, it's up to them to decide when they want to take that first trip through the ice," said Lepke.

J.F. Brennan started breaking the ice with its tug boats in the harbor to speed up the clearing process.

Binsfeld said he anticipates barges making it up to La Crosse within the next week.

All the lock and dams up to St. Paul are open.

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