Unofficial start of Mississippi River navigation season kicks off in Hastings

The unofficial start of the Mississippi River navigation season has begun. The first motor vessel, a towboat named Joseph Patrick Eckstein, was locked by the St. Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with 12 barges through Lock and Dam 2 in Hastings on Sunday, on its way to St. Paul.

The St. Paul District considers the unofficial start of the season when all of its locks are accessible to both commercial and recreational vessels. The average start date of the navigation season is March 22, with the earliest dates in history being March 4 in 1983, 1984 and 2000.

In the 2023 season, the first tow arrived March 12, when the motor vessel Phillip M. Pfeffer passed through Lock and Dam 2 with six barges. The 2023 season ended on Dec. 5 when the motor vessel Thomas Erickson departed Lock and Dam 10 near Guttenberg, Iowa.

The St. Paul district operates 12 locks and dams from Minneapolis to Guttenberg, Iowa and maintains a 9-foot-deep navigation channel. Using this system, producers save around $1 per bushel of corn and soybeans by using the river to ship commodities. The commercial navigation industry saves an estimated $400 million annually by using inland waterways.

Four of the 12 locks and dams were closed for maintenance this winter, including locks 2, 3, 4 and 7, the construction of which was just completed March 16.

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