Coast Guard juggles safety, commerce concerns
as floodwaters wreak havoc along the Mississippi
BY JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
Keeping the Waterways Usable
A lot of the gauges in parts of the
river that we are responsible for
saw the highest river level records
ever,” said Capt. Michael Gardiner,
sector commander for Coast Guard
Sector Lower Mississippi River in
The unprecedented flooding
primarily was due to prolonged
rainfall during the winter and
spring in the Upper Mississippi
and Ohio Basin areas, coupled with
an unusually snowy winter from
Missouri to Louisiana.
“You could tell we were going to
see a significant amount of water
coming down the river. … We were able to see this
coming and alert people in the communities when they
had to be evacuated,” Gardiner said. “It was kind of
almost a slow-motion disaster.”
His command is in charge of areas of the river that
flow through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and
northern Louisiana. Gardiner’s main concern was
dealing with navigation issues and trying to balance
the need to protect communities while keeping com-
Restrictions on towing sizes, short river closures,
restrictions to daylight traffic only and a number of
other measures were taken in order to make sure shippers were safe in the water, which caused disruptions
to commercial traffic. The floodwaters also damaged
docks and other maritime facilities along the river.
“There was kind of a ripple impact through the system that was pretty significant,” Gardiner said.
Keeping the Mississippi River open is vital for shippers. According to the Big River Coalition, a group of
nearly 50 businesses and organizations that rely on
Mississippi River commerce, about 450 million tons of
international cargo worth an estimated $114 billion
moves through the lower Mississippi River annually.
During a historic flooding season along the Mississippi River, the
Coast Guard has had to ensure the safety of vessels and surrounding communities while trying to keep the river open to shipping traffic.
■ One official predicts flooding will last well into the summer.
■ About 450 million tons of international cargo worth an estimated
$114 billion moves through the lower Mississippi River annually.
■ The Coast Guard is using fan boats, buoy tenders, MH-65C Dolphin
helicopters, 25-foot response boats and disaster response teams.
For the second consecutive year, the Coast Guard has found itself playing a pivotal role in the response to a long-term, ongoing disaster
that involved numerous other agencies and was spread
over a large geographic area.
Last year, it was the lead federal agency in charge of
the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the
Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. This year, it
is juggling maritime safety concerns while ensuring
the continued flow of commerce during historic flooding along the Mississippi River.
The service has been working with local, state and
federal partners to respond to floodwaters that decimated farmland and communities, crippled ports and
have caused financial and logistical headaches for
commercial shippers from Illinois to Mississippi and
Louisiana in April and May.
Using fan boats, buoy tenders, MH-65C Dolphin
helicopters, 25-foot response boats and disaster
response teams, the Coast Guard is waging a battle
against the flooding that one official said will continue
well into the summer.
“You have heard a lot of people throw the word ‘
historic’ around and I don’t think that’s overstating it at all.