By David Murray
October 16, 2017
A recent Corps of Engineers report comparing inland ports listed the St. Louis greater regional port district over a 70-mile radius as third in the country. If the Kaskaskia River is included, however, it is the second-largest. On its own, the Kaskaskia Regional Port District says it is the 73rd largest port and the 8th largest inland port in the country.
The Kaskaskia River rises in several streams in east-central Illinois near Champaign and flows southwest for 325 miles to join the Mississippi River 40 miles southeast of St. Louis. The St. Louis Engineer District maintains a 225- by 9-foot channel during the ice-free season. The Corps impounds its waters at Lake Carlyle (which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017) and Lake Shelbyville for purposes of flood control and recreation.
The river’s single lock and dam, the Jerry F. Costello Lock and Dam, located at the mouth where the Kaskaskia joins the Mississippi, is due for its first-ever dewatering and inspection in the spring of 2018.
Because of several recent flooding events, the Corps has begun work on flood-proofing the lock electrical system and relocating its backup generator, main breaker, transfer switch and utility transformer above flood levels.
Once solely a coal conduit, the Kaskaskia Regional Port District is now transforming itself into a growing handler of steel, grain and fertilizer. It handles coal and scrubber stone cargoes for the nearby Prairie State coal-fired generator plant, built as a showplace for clean coal.
An innovative steel-processing plant located on the Kaskaskia, The Material Works (TMW), has contributed to growing barge traffic between the port and Arkansas Steel Processing’s Big River Steel facility in Osceola, Ark., an advanced “flex-mill” opened at the end of 2015 at a cost of $1.3 billion (see WJ, September 18).
Grain and fertilizer cargoes are a growing mainstay for the river. In the mid-1980s, Randolph Service Company started loading barges on the Kaskaskia at Evansville, Ill.; early projections called for 15 to 20 barges per year. Today, Gateway FS, a grain cooperative that is the successor company to Randolph Service Company, moves 200 to 300 barges on the river each year.
In 2016, Gateway FS built an 18,000-ton blending and storage facility at the Kaskaskia River Port District No. 2 site near Baldwin, Ill. Work was recently completed on a state-of-the-art agricultural chemical load-out facility, and work is near completion on a seed-treating and seed storage facility.
In 2016, after 10 years of effort by stakeholder organizations, the Corps agreed to undertake a comprehensive study of the entire Kaskaskia watershed. The study will include discussion of management techniques for a controlled river, including proper techniques for storing river energy and controlling erosion.
In addition, the Upper Kaskaskia Ecosystem Partnership is awaiting a draft report that addresses sedimentation in a tributary to the Kaskaskia.
Both of these studies address a major issue facing the navigation project, the siltation of the channel between new Athens and Fayetteville over a 14-mile stretch. The silt has been attributed to “head cutting,” which occurs when a vertical drop-off in the riverbed crumbles and erodes.
Re-establishment of the channel between New Athens and Fayetteville is necessary to allow development of a grain terminal at Fayetteville by the port district and four farm cooperatives.
The siltation has been a source of ongoing dispute for years between local stakeholders and the Corps; the stakeholders claim that the Corps’ channel-maintenance practices are responsible for the siltation, and therefore it is responsible for fixing it.