* Lock 27 closed for emergency repairs, may reopen Thurs
* Closure costs industry an estimated $2.5 mln-$3 mln/day
* 59 vessels awaiting passage Wednesday afternoon
* Spot corn, soybean basis at the Gulf buoyed by closure
(Updates number of vessels delayed, adds grain market impact,
By Karl Plume
Sept 19 The busiest lock on the Mississippi
River remained closed on Wednesday after being shut for
emergency repairs over the weekend, causing a backup of
commercial vessels on the crucial shipping waterway, government
Lock operators hope to reopen the lock Thursday morning
allowing river traffic to resume.
The closure of lock and dam 27, the southernmost lock on the
Mississippi River's lock system and just upriver from St. Louis,
is estimated to result in some $2.5 million to $3 million in
lost revenue each day that it is closed as shipments of grain,
coal and other commodities are delayed.
The lock was closed on Saturday after crews discovered
damage to one of the lock's protection cells. The cells are
rock-filled cylinders which vessels often bump against as they
enter the lock.
Low water on the river following the worst U.S. drought in
56 years had exposed an unarmored portion of the protection cell
and frequent impacts by vessels caused a breach, allowing some
of the rock to spill into the channel and obstruct it.
"Both lock chambers, the main chamber and the auxiliary, are
blocked by the rock that came out of the protection cell. Until
we can guarantee safe approach there's no traffic moving," said
Michael Petersen, spokesman with the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers St. Louis District.
A queue of 59 vessels was awaiting passage as of 1:00 p.m.
CDT (1800 GMT) on Wednesday, said Colin Fogarty, public affairs
officer for the U.S. Coast Guard's upper Mississippi River
The queue included barge tows containing 419 barges, a
freight volume equivalent to 5,600 railroad cars or 24,300
fully-loaded semi trucks, Fogarty said.
The Army Corps, which manages the lock system, expects to
begin allowing passage of vessels by early Thursday morning at
the earliest, Petersen said.
The Mississippi River is the main shipping waterway for
grain moving from farms in the Midwest to export facilities at
the Gulf of Mexico. Some 55 to 65 percent of U.S. corn, soybean
and wheat shipments exit the country via the U.S. Gulf.
CASH GRAIN BASIS RISES
Cash premiums for barge loads of corn and soybeans delivered
to the Gulf Coast have firmed slightly this week, partly due to
the closure, traders said.
But further gains could come in the days ahead as some
exporters may be forced to replace the corn or soybeans that
will not be arriving as promptly as they expected, they said.
Basis bids for spot barge shipments of soybeans at the Gulf,
including cost, insurance and freight (CIF), climbed to 74 cents
a bushel over the benchmark Chicago Board of Trade November
soybean futures contract, up 6 cents from late last week.
Spot CIF corn basis bids jumped to 63 cents over CBOT
December futures, up 10 cents from Friday.
"It hasn't had too big of an impact. A lot of people seemed
to be long beans and corn hasn't been a real pull to the Gulf
because it's not competitive (on the world market)," a grain
barge trader said.
"We could maybe see a blip in 7 days. It might spur some
activity in the ETA market," he added, referring to barges
traded based on a specific, typically short term, time of
arrival at the Gulf.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)