Farmers Are Planning For Illinois River Shutdown Next Year

Aug 7, 2019

A barge moves down the Illinois River near Pere Marquette State Park.
Credit flickr/HikingMike - https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It’s not uncommon for many Illinois farmers to ship much, or even all, of their commodities along the Illinois River.  So a plan to close the river in 2020 for lock and dam repairs could have a huge impact.

“They’re going to need to re-route, predetermine and plan to not be able to use the river for up to 4 months,” said Kirby Wagner, Assistant Director of Transportation and Infrastructure for the Illinois Farm Bureau.  The organization has been reaching out to farmers in advance with a series of meetings.

“It’s going to be a bigger problem if plans aren’t made before 2020 gets here,” he said.

The Illinois Army Corps of Engineers has released a schedule that has closures of six locks next year.  The biggest project is expected to be at the LaGrange Lock and Dam south of Beardstown, which is expected to close for 3 months. 

Wagner credits the Corps for working with industry leaders to determine the best time for the work. 

“Instead of doing one closure every year, they’re doing them all at once.  That’s more productive instead of having us shut down several years in a row,” Wagner said. He adds that the work next year will be done during lower shipping times, starting after what is traditionally flood season and ending before post-harvest shipping.

Farmers will need to find ways to avoid the river construction work, possibly by using more rail transportation. 

Wagner also points out the work is needed.  He said the existing locks are decades past their expected lifespans, function slowly and cause delays.  “Having these locks working properly will help get commodities moved down the river more effectively.”

He doesn’t anticipate the temporary river shutdown to impact market prices.  But he cautions the situation could change if there are problems and construction drags on longer than anticipated.