Good Things Come Upstream

What’s Coming Up River?

We talk about the importance of river shipping and getting Minnesota grains downstream to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, but what about the products that make their way upstream?

According to Kathryn Sarnecki, vice president of harbor management at the Saint Paul Port Authority, “Products coming up the river are equally important.”

Our Winter Commute Wouldn’t Be the Same

Take for instance the road salt we depend on during times of snow and ice.  Without it, we would be “slipping and sliding all winter long,” explains Sarnecki. When the weather is warm, road salt is shipped upstream to Minnesota, where it is stockpiled in our terminals for the upcoming winter.

Our Road Construction Projects Depend on River Shipping

Another key product is cement, which comes from places like Iowa, Louisiana and other states along the Mississippi River. Believe it or not, cement is something that should not be taken for granted. In 2014, poor river conditions hindered the delivery of cement and we were dangerously close to shutting down all MnDOT road construction projects. No cement means no concrete which means no road construction.

That year the river flooded. When the water is high, it moves quickly and carries a lot of sediment. Following the flood stage, water levels drop, slowing the flow and dropping the sediment to the bottom of the river. Thanks to low water levels and high amounts of sediment at the bottom of river, barges were getting stuck. This impacted the supply of cement.

The solution was to deliver partial loads of cement, which were lighter and easier to maneuver in these conditions. Loads were reduced by half in La Crosse, Wisconsin in partnership with the maritime industry, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and private businesses.