Rising water levels causing traffic restrictions on river

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 5:13 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 10 at 10:43 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS – The water is inching closer to the top of the levees here along the New Orleans riverfront, a very dangerous time for people who make their living on the river.

Ships on the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area are now fighting a six to seven mile per hour current on a river that continues to rise, and as a result of the high water, certain restrictions are now in effect for mariners.

This afternoon the water splashed only a few feet from the top of the levee on Algiers Point, and the river isn't expected to crest for another two weeks.

“This is a crazy time on the river, that's for sure,” said Cpt. Michael Rooney, president of the New Orleans - Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association, or NOBRA.

NOBRA has implemented emergency procedures for ships to follow up and down the lower Mississippi.

“No one in my lifetime, your lifetime any of our lifetimes has seen the river at this stage," Rooney said. "So, we're at the highest level of alert.”

Until further notice, southbound river traffic from Baton Rouge to New Orleans will be in daylight only. Northbound traffic from the sunshine bridge in St. James Parish to Baton Rouge is also daylight only. And vessels with a draft of more than 30 feet must have a pilot on board while at anchor.

“With this historic level of river, the ship would be at the top of the levee and it would take very little for that ship to punch a hole in the levee,” Rooney said.

The vessel traffic center in Algiers is like the air traffic controller for ships on the lower Mississippi. Melvin Mayer has been controlling river traffic here for 23 years.

“Normally it gets a little more hectic when we get a high river with traffic and one way traffic, but when it gets to this stage here, you have to be extra careful with it,” Mayer said.

The Coast Guard is keeping a close watch on the river and how the historically high levels have affected city's and towns north of New Orleans. Right now vessels cannot pass one another on Algiers Point, and there are certain restrictions on barges and ships that can't travel more than 10 mph.

“The likelihood that we would shut down the entire length of the river is pretty unlikely and that's not something that we look to do, and that would be a last option,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Marcie Kohn.

Kohn also said that vessels are now being told to be mindful of their wake and the damage it could do to the levees and structures along the river under these high water conditions.

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