Corps to Begin Removing Rock Formations Slowing Barge Traffic in Mississippi

In this Sept. 19, 2012 file photo, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Chris Hall points to a vertical, rock-filled steel tube called a "protector cell" that serves as a buffer that Mississippi River barges rub against, aligning them before they actually enter the lock in Granite City, Ill. Emergency repairs are under way on that structure after workers discovered that an unarmored portion of it exposed by river levels dramatically lowered by the drought split open, spilling much of the rock into the channel and forcing the channel to be closed to shipping. The Mississippi River's 70-year-old system of locks and dams urgently needs upgrades to accommodate barges that have gotten bigger over time, a group of federal lawmakers is warning after last week's dayslong shutdown of the river's busiest lock. (AP Photo/Jim Suhr)

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By Liz Blood

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers says it's close to shoring up how soon contractors could begin removing treacherous southern Illinois rock formations impeding barge traffic in the drought-plagued Mississippi River.

The corps says it has hired Newt Marine Service of Dubuque, Iowa, and Kokosing Construction Co. of Fredericktown, Ohio, to do the work being expedited because of low levels of the Mississippi.

The corps is finalizing how quickly the companies get to the work site near the Illinois village of Thebes, do prep work and begin blasting the rock to remove it.

Months of drought have left water levels up to 20 feet below normal from St. Louis to Cairo, Ill. The problem worsened last month when Missouri River flow into the Mississippi was cut.

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