The Road To Recovery

July 29, 2008 06:14 AM

From the moment floodwaters topped the levees, agricultural shippers wondered how long they'd deal with the most serious marketing interruption since the flood of 1993. By the time the water began receding, despite lingering long-term problems, many found they could soon resume reasonably normal operations. Others weren't so lucky.

Ursa Farmers Co-op's 4.5-million-bushel grain terminal on the Illinois side of Lock and Dam 20 just across the Mississippi River from Canton, Mo., was inundated by floodwaters when the levee breached. Gerald Jenkins, the co-op's general manager, says: "We have two river terminals, and this is our largest facility. It sits right next to where the levee breached underneath the lock.”

Restoring river traffic is key to the health of the 2,400-member co-op, which exports 95% of its grain through New Orleans.

Overwhelmed locks and dams closed down Mississippi River traffic. Barges and towboats were forced to wait for the water to recede, costing their companies upwards of $1 million a day in lost income, says Paul Rohde, vice president of Midwest operations for the Waterways Council.

The Army Corps of Engineers indicates the river's lock-and-dam system survived the flood in good shape, though it faced considerable cleanup. "It's kind of a dicey prediction game on navigation impacts,” Rohde says.

The toughest transportation problems in Iowa's rural areas are washed-out county roads. "A lot of areas are not suitable for travel. Federal assistance is going to be needed,” says Dena Gray-Fisher, Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT).

About 125 miles of Iowa's state road system is damaged enough to require extensive repairs. Many bridges survived flooding surprisingly well, but the roadway approaches to them were damaged, says Norm McDonald, Iowa DOT bridge engineer.

Damage to railroad infrastructure could put Iowa's ag industry in a shipping bind for months to come. In addition to the collapse of the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Railway (CRANDIC) bridge that fed the ADM plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowans lost a railroad bridge in Columbus Junction that carried trains to a Tyson Foods pork plant. A Union Pacific railroad bridge leading to the John Deere tractor plant in Waterloo also failed.

The railroad companies acted quickly to restore service. The Iowa Northern Railway, which used the CRANDIC bridge to get to ADM, worked out a six-month arrangement with Union Pacific, giving it another route to Cedar Rapids. It adds 200 miles to the trip.

"Our estimate is that we had $5.9 million in damage to our 165 miles of track. It's going to be a long process to line up the money and rebuild, probably six months to a year to get it all replaced,” says Dan Sabin, Iowa Northern Railway president.

Preliminary reports from a handful of Iowa's short line railroads that serve ethanol plants indicated $23 million in damage, says Diane McCauley, policy analyst for the Iowa Office of Rail Transportation. "Slowly but surely, the bridges and tracks will be repaired. Until then, it'll take longer and will be a higher cost, but goods will be moving. It's not going to be great for a while,” McCauley says.


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