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Brainstorm: Put Backlogged Grain on Missouri River Barges?

There is something perverse about capitalism and the global economy when a shipping company suspends cargo runs from Minneapolis at the height of harvest. We have food, something human being needs every day, and big business would rather haul coal and oil across the Pacific. The capitalist system shows further malfunction in failing to pay those who grow food enough to make shipping their product to eaters pay off.

Senator-Elect Mike Rounds and his facilitators think the solution is more more more! Pump and pipe more oil instead of challenging the root problem, an addiction to fossil fuels.

In my reading on the grain-rail-oil problem, I notice that Northwest grain farmers are having an easier time getting their product to market because barges can haul their grain down the Columbia. That gets me thinking: why don't we alleviate the shipping shortage by returning to barge shipments on the Missouri River? Let's even expand it: install some storage bins and grain chutes at the dams—up and over!—and maybe we could float grain all the way down from Bismarck.


  1. larry kurtz 2014.11.12

    If East River would either carve ice out of the James and Big Sioux Rivers, load it onto side-dump railcars or pump flood water into tank cars, or both, then dump it into the Colorado's closest tributary, the Green River in Wyoming, South Dakota could sell that water to Las Vegas and Phoenix.

  2. Lynn 2014.11.12

    Financially I believe this would be too expensive. The Corps would need to install a lock system and then there would be the dredging. There has been a very serious problem with silt build up from creeks and rivers feeding into the Missouri such as the Niobrara river and is filling up the Missouri with silt taking away capacity which can not only make it more prone to flooding but I don't see how it would work for navigation for barge traffic.

    If you look at photos of the river at Springfield, SD from the 50's and see it today you will see just how stunning the changes are. It's filling in with silt and the Corps has already checked into dredging regarding the silt issue alone and it would be far too expensive.

  3. Dyna Sluyter 2014.11.12

    The river from Sioux City down appears to still be navigable- a towboat and barge of building materials was brought up to just downriver from Sioux City last summer. Upriver from Sioux City there's no infrastructure to handle barges, and it'd probably be a billion dollar investment to make the river navigable.

  4. Lynn 2014.11.12

    The Dams have contributed to the sedimentation buildup also disrupting the flow and flooding that would of not let that silt build up.

  5. testor15 2014.11.12

    This is actually a funny problem for those of us old enough to remember what was to happen in the area now known as Dakota Dunes. What was it supposed to be? For many years it was a dream to build a barge loading station for shipping South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska grain to international ports.
    The stupidity of building houses in the Sioux River - Missouri River confluence area of this flood plain lost the multipurpose plans for the area. The short sighted nature of our politics has destroyed this fantastic plan to use the Pick-Sloan project to help our reach to international markets.
    Greed has a won again, thank you!

  6. thomas 2014.11.12

    How about of series of hoverbarges to bring grain down river from North Dakota to SIoux City? They could leave the river, go around the dams on land, and then re-enter the water and continue. They could also back haul oil equipment upriver to be trans loaded for transport to the Bakken region.

    There are already existing hover barges that transport 250 tons. This would take a load off our roads.

  7. leslie 2014.11.12

    lk-interbasin water transfers-good stuff, maybe. don't know if you are serious. big ice cubes!! lotta unintendended consequences.

    been reading about how little Missouri/grand river divides got so close. the great icesheet fast melt when the rockies were rising! before 6000 years ago!

  8. larry kurtz 2014.11.12

    leslie, my proposal was for 2011 to relieve flooding pressure in the Missouri basin starting in Fort Peck and Sakakawea.

  9. larry kurtz 2014.11.12

    There is, of course, no direct rail to the Green River from southern Dakota.

  10. Jim 2014.11.12

    I believe Dyna is correct in that the river accommodates barges from sioux city on down. Between sioux city and Springfield you have two long stretches of National Wild and Scenic river that is only navigable for small boats. Below sioux city, the corps of engineers maintains a nine foot deep channel for barges, but with a current of about 7 mph, it costs a lot to push those barges up stream. The Mississippi meanders more slowly. Having the potential for barge traffic below sioux city was to keep the rail rates in check for ag transport, but it hasn't really worked out that way. Did you know channelization of the mighty mo has shortened it by about 200 miles?

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.12

    And Dyna, I see at your URL this blog post contending that the rail capacity shortage is coming not from oil overload but from a lack of locomotives. Sounds like South Dakota had better fire up the EB-5 program again, recruit some investors, and build a locomotive factory!

  12. jerry 2014.11.12

    Very good link Dyna, indeed it just goes to show how corporate America has destroyed the country. We don't really build anything anymore, we just think we can buy it from someplace else and toss some lipstick on it, then call it good. Damn poor way to run a country.

  13. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.11.12

    If recreational people go on getting their way, navigability will continue to diminish. They are successfully closing locks on the upper Mississippi River to keep invasive species, especially Asian carp, from getting into the MN lakes. That may not work on the carp but they love their lakes in Minn.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.11.13

    Read Dyna's new blog post and Mike's Sioux City link—renewing barge traffic, at least to Sioux City, isn't such a crazy idea!

    Jim, would any ag traffic move up the Missouri, or does it all head downstream?

  15. Nick Nemec 2014.11.13

    They used to barge fertilizer up river to terminals in Sioux City.

  16. Dyna Sluyter 2014.11.13

    The barge of equipment was in fact going to the fertilizer plant just south of Sioux City, they have barge terminal facilities but haven't used them.

  17. Jeff Barth 2014.11.13

    Republicans seem to think that government action is the solution.

  18. Jim 2014.11.13

    Cory, I suppose they would try to move what they can upstream as well to try and maximize the profit on thei barge time, but I doubt it would involve much grain upstream, but maybe ag related products, fertilizer, machinery etc. I don't know what the most viable solution is. It would seem to be get more rail cars in play. If they were to barge grain from sioux city, where is it destined? Chicago? Houston? All rail lines in the country link to Chicago. But I can't imagine it cost effective to barge from sioux city to Kansas City then rail it up to Chicago. The railroads across the northern plains appear more inclined to service oil interests. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Feds step in with some type of subsidy or incentive. If that happens with this congress, it will be to the benefit of oil or the railroads, both industries which already enjoy massive profits.

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