Daylight-only restrictions back in effect; Mississippi expected to hit 42 feet

    A few weeks after they were lifted, daylight-only restrictions on Mississippi River ship movements are back in effect, with the water levels again rising at the gauges in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

    The Board of Examiners for New Orleans-Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots for the Mississippi River—otherwise known as the NOBRA Pilots Board of Examiners—reinstated the ban on nighttime travel Monday, according to board chair Capt. Robert Heitmeier, when water levels reached the designated 16 feet in New Orleans and 40 feet in Baton Rouge.

    In Baton Rouge, the river reached 41.4 feet today, and it’s expected to hit 42 feet by March 3, absent any rainfall. However, Heitmeier says the river is forecasted to drop below the 16- and 40-foot trigger points around March 13, also barring rain, at which point the board plans to again lift the restrictions.

    “We hope it doesn’t hit any higher,” Heitmeier says. “We’re going to handle [the restrictions] based on using those river levels as trigger points, as usual.”

    The last time the board implemented daytime restrictions was in April 2019, when river levels reached 41.27 feet in Baton Rouge and 16.35 at the Carrollton Gage in New Orleans, but it did not specify when the restrictions would be lifted. Then in January, the board further restricted vessel transit along 150 miles of the river, again without specifying a timeline, effectively implementing them indefinitely. 

    Several weeks ago, local industry leaders called for an immediate end to the restrictions, which they argued hurt commerce in the Capital Region after being in place for 10 consecutive months. Once water levels returned to a safe height and after consulting with industry leaders, NOBRA lifted the ban Feb. 7.

    Despite reinstating the ban this week for safety purposes, Heitmeier says he doesn’t expect 2020 to be the “anomaly” of a year that 2019 was, citing the high water that began in November 2018 and lasted through all of 2019, as well as the twice-opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. 

    “Last year was unprecedented; this is kind of normal,” Heitmeier says.

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