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Flooding Slows Business And Barges Along The River

Trees along Leonor K Sullivan Boulevard are seen surrounded by rising water on Tuesday as the Mississippi River reaches a near-record height.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Due to high water levels along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, barges have been at a standstill for the last two weeks. They are unable to load or unload goods until the U.S. Coast Guard gives the all clear.

While water levels are beginning to drop along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, heavy flooding has led to the closure of many roads leading into small river towns and nearly 100 miles of the Katy Trail.

This time of year, John Benz’s campground along Highway 94 in Rhineland is normally packed with Katy Trail bike riders. But, flooding from the Missouri River led to the cancellation of the annual Katy Trail Ride and the closure of the highway. As a result, Benz said business has been down about 90%.

“Each year there is a tendency for flooding in the area to a minor extent, but this is the worst I’ve seen since the ‘93 and ‘95 floods in terms of the duration of it,” he said, adding that he’s not expecting business to pick up until the trails can be opened and repaired.

Along the Mississippi River about 40 minutes south of St. Louis, the town of Kimmswick is still in flood-fighting mode, according to Mayor Phil Stang.

The river crested at 46 feet, and flooding blocked two of the three roads into the town. With only one way into the 170-person town, Stang said he had to cancel the Kimmswick Strawberry Festival, which annually draws up to 50,000 people.

“We will not put people’s lives in danger, and that’s why we canceled the festival,” he said, noting that emergency vehicles would have been unable to easily get in and out of town.

“We’ll figure out how to do the money, but you can’t bring people back,” Stang said.

The money part is significant, though — revenue from festivals make up 80% of the city’s budget, and the Strawberry Festival is the second largest in town after the Apple Butter Festival in the fall.

For Mary Hostetter, owner of the Blue Owl Restaurant & Bakery, the Strawberry Festival is usually the kickoff to a busy summer season. Not this year. While she usually seats 250 to 300 people a day for lunch in the summer, lately, it’s been around 100.

“There’s just no way to make up this much time. We’ve had basically two months of slow business, and it’s just really hard,” she said.

For now, Hostetter doesn’t have much to do but wait for the crowds to come back. She said the town is fighting the perception that it’s been flooded out.

“The word is we are definitely open for business,” she said.

Ward Franz, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, said fear of flooding is keeping people away from destinations that haven’t been impacted by high rivers.

“You definitely have damage, but overall it is the perception,” he said. “I talked with the director of tourism in Arkansas the other day, and they’re dealing with the same issue. People think the whole state is under water, and that’s not the case.”

Up the Mississippi River in St. Louis, river traffic has come to a screeching halt. Barges hauling corn, beans and other goods have been at a standstill for two weeks because of high water levels.

Butler Miller operates a small barge company in St. Louis, Robert B. Miller & Associates. He says one of his barges, filled with fishmeal, can’t be unloaded for at least another week when the water level drops and the U.S. Coast Guard gives the all clear.

He has about 200 barges total, 20 of which are stuck along the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.

“I think a lot of people are waiting for the upper Mississippi to open because they have fertilizer to deliver, so you have a lot of loaded barges sitting in St. Louis waiting to go to the upper Mississippi, and that’s somewhat due to lock problems, too — but the water’s not helping.”

While he said he’s not losing money, the financial impact will hit farmers hardest.

“They cannot sell their goods effectively to anyone, so they have to sit on the product and then sell it later — and hopefully the prices hold,” Miller said.

The water level in St. Louis remains at major flooding levels.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.