July 14, 2015 / 9:55 PM / 4 years ago

Flooding halts Illinois River barges, corn export costs jump

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard closed a 50-mile stretch of the Illinois River to all traffic on Tuesday as persistent heavy rains following the state’s wettest June on record swelled the waterway to within two feet of all-time highs in some areas.

Cash premiums for corn shipped in barges to the Gulf Coast for export surged to the highest in two weeks as river grain elevators in the country’s No. 2 corn-producing state were forced to stop loading vessels as barge lines sidelined boats.

Flood-related shipping restrictions this spring and summer have disrupted the flow of grain to Gulf export terminals, where some 60 percent of all U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat exit the country.

The Illinois river was closed to all traffic from mile marker 30 near Kampsville, Illinois, to mile 80 in Versailles due to high water, the Coast Guard said on Tuesday.

No-wake zones were in place from mile zero at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to mile 30, and from mile 80 to mile 187 near Lacon, Illinois.

“The water is up on sandbags or within six inches of overtopping levees so any commercial traffic going through that closed area could potentially cause damage to those levees,” said Mike Zerbonia, Illinois River operations manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the Lagrange lock and dam in Versailles, the river is expected to crest at 33.1 feet on Wednesday, just 1.4 feet below the all-time high reached in April 2013, according to the National Weather Service. An expected crest of 27.4 feet at the Meredosia gauge on Wednesday would be within 1.3 feet of a 1943 record high.

Prices for corn barges loaded this month jumped 8 cents on Tuesday to 51 cents a bushel over Chicago Board of Trade September futures due to the river closure and a dip in futures prices, grain traders said.

Editing by James Dalgleish

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