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Army Corps Closes River To Commercial Traffic

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Whether pleasure boating or commercial barge, Old Man River is dictating the terms.

The Army Corps of Engineers expects the upper three locks on the Mississippi River to remain closed to boaters until mid-June.

Barge traffic has already stopped downriver in St. Paul, where tug operators said they'll have to wait things out.

"It's fairly unusual, but with 9.3-plus inches of rain in May that's a huge watershed area, it's natural that it all gets funneled down through here," Mike DeRusha said.

DeRusha is the Army Corps of Engineers' lockmaster at St. Anthony Falls. It's his call to close the locks to all navigation when river levels reach unsafe levels.

"At 40,000 cubic feet per second, we have to shut down the lock to commercial tow boats," he said. "It's just too dangerous. The last thing we want is for anybody to lose their life out here."

The threshold for pleasure boating was at 30,000 cubic feet per second, which the river reached on Monday night.

DeRusha expects water flowing downriver from the heavily hit Brainerd Lakes basin will cause the Mississippi to peak at 47,000 cubic feet per second sometime this weekend.

For now, coal, salt, steel and sand will travel on trucks rather than barges.

At the lower St. Anthony lock, 16 generating turbines hang high and dry. They won't produce power until river levels drop, because the Army Corps needs them out of the way of a gate to help control river flow.

Further upstream in Anoka County, pleasure boats can't even get to the water. The county has closed two major boat landings due to the rapidly rising river conditions.

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