Barges lining up as Tenn-Tom nears opening

Staff Writer

Barges have begun lining up at ports in Columbus and Amory and in-between in anticipation of finally being able to get north and south on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway sometime this week.

After a long-string of unexpected delays, the Corps of Engineers has told barge operators and companies along the waterway a large sandbar that has blocked the channel at the Aberdeen Lock and Dam should be cleared by Wednesday and possibly as early as Monday.

“She won’t give up,” Corps Project Manager Justin Murphree said of the struggle dredging crews have had clearing a “pilot channel” through the sandbar, which contains an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of debris and silt.

The channel was blocked in late February following almost unprecedented flooding that began Feb. 22. The Corps had hoped to have it cleared by the second week of April but the delays, ranging from high waters to equipment issues, slowed progress.

“We are real close, real close,” Murphree said of the work. “We’ll certainly be glad to have that pilot channel open.”

But once that’s open, much work remains. That channel basically is only one lane. The Corps is finalizing contracts for other dredging that will restore the waterway to its established 300-foot-wide, minimum nine-feet-deep channels for navigation.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’ll be going well into the year. We’ve joked we may have to put a Christmas tree on the dredge. But we’re hoping we can get into the summer and some longer periods of dredging,” he concluded.

The delays have forced companies north and south of the blockage to either lose revenue or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on alternative transportation methods to keep supplies and finished products moving either to customers or manufacturing facilities.