Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mississippi River expected to reopen for shipping today

The Coast Guard expects the waterway to be fully reopened to shipping today.

The opening will relieve a choke point in and out of the river that has had a wide impact ranging from oil refineries to grain shipments to blue-collar jobs in the New Orleans area. But several local maritime leaders said a Coast Guard recovery unit set up to oversee commerce after the oil spill failed miserably because of a lack of communication.

On Monday, the Coast Guard reopened the locks in New Orleans for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, a major east-west artery for shipping.

Crews are still days away from lifting the broken barge out of the river, though the Coast Guard said it is securely resting against a Crescent City Connection piling. Before a salvage crew can remove it, workers will have to steady the barge with cranes while pumping any remaining oil out of its hull.

Officials expect the cleanup to continue for weeks, as only 72,000 gallons of the more than 400,000 spilled have been cleaned up. That's likely less than 20 percent of the entire mess, because crews are picking up a mixture of oil and water from the surface of the river.

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