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Port of Hickman Living on Knife-Edge

By David Murray

Before modern dredging, Mississippi River ports lived at the mercy of rainfall forecasts and river levels, not knowing sometimes from one month to the next during dry spells whether they could continue to operate.

For Hickman, Kentucky, those days are right now. Due to dredging cutbacks by the Corps of Engineers, Hickman harbor closed October for four days beginning October 14, but reopened October 18 after Mississippi River levels rose again, according to Amy Williamson, assistant director of the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport Authority.

The Corps of Engineers, claiming the port’s cargo tonnage does not meet its minimum requirement for new dredging cutoffs, has not dredged the port’s Elvis J. Stahr Harbor for two years, and recently told the port it could not expect dredging this year either.

Williamson said the port was still receiving barge cargoes at press time (October 31), and that barge companies have not yet had to light-load.

“It’s about 20 feet out there right now,” she told International Dredging Review. “We’re keeping an eye on the forecasting.”“What we need to remain mindful of is the fact that the harbor is still in dire need of dredging and that this is a situation that will only continue to worsen over time,” Williamson said. “A solution to this problem has not been achieved, even if the ferry is operating and barges are being loaded or unloaded.”

While not getting specific about ongoing efforts to secure the dredging funds, Williamson says the region’s congressional delegation has been well informed on the situation.

On September 22, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Tenn.) held a public meeting on the dredging situation at Hickman’s county office building. Other officials present included Rep. Stephen Fincher, state Rep. Bill Sanderson, Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Fulton County Judge Executive David Gallagher.

Paul later told the Independence/Walton/Taylor Mill Journal News, “I spoke with users of the harbor, farmers and other members of the community to get their feel for what the harbor meant to them.“Keeping the transportation modes open was important, and I will now look for ways to secure money for the operation. We need to find savings somewhere, but we need to invest in our infrastructure as well. I’m going to work with Congressman Whitfield to find a solution as soon as possible.”

Founded in 1978, the Hickman-Fulton County Riverport is the only public port on the east side of the Mississippi River in Kentucky. It is at Mile 922 on the lower Mississippi in the Elvis J. Stahr Harbor. Its Web site notes it is in the geographic center of a major grain producing area.

Williamson has said the harbor actually handles a little more than a million tons a year, or just over the Corps’ supposed cutoff to qualify for dredging. The port serves clients across western Kentucky, northwest Tennessee and southeast Missouri. About 70 percent of the harbor traffic is agricultural and the rest is manufacturing-related traffic.

Low Water Not Affecting Ferry – Yet

Despite the low water in Hickman Harbor, the ferry between Hickman, Kentucky and Dorena, Missouri was still operating at press time, although it, too, is keeping an eye on Cairo water levels.

The Dorena-Hickman Toll Ferry is one of the few remaining riverboat ferries in the United States, and the only operating ferry crossing the Mississippi River between Missouri and Kentucky. The ferry landings are on State Highway A near Dorena, in southeast Missouri, and Hickman Ferry Crossing off Kentucky State Highway 1354.

It is the only means of crossing the Mississippi River between Cairo, Illinois and New Madrid, Missouri. The ferry operates during daylight hours seven days a week year round except Christmas Day.

The ferry’s Web site states that a ride on the ferry is a unique opportunity “to experience the wonder and beauty of the Mighty Mississippi and America’s Heartland, an area rich in heritage and natural beauty.”

Tolls range from $8 for a single vehicle, through long, wide loads for $84. Motorcycles, ATVs and horse-drawn wagons are $5; bicycles and horses are $2, and pedestrians are $1.

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