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Local

Size and Substance

M/V Mississippi tours also provide insight into Corps, Commission

The largest towboat in the country, the M/V Mississippi was open for tours while it was docked in Ottawa on Saturday. The tours are designed to better inform the public about the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for whom the vessel serves as a flagship, and the Mississippi River Commission, which provides water resources engineering and advice to the federal government.
The largest towboat in the country, the M/V Mississippi was open for tours while it was docked in Ottawa on Saturday. The tours are designed to better inform the public about the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for whom the vessel serves as a flagship, and the Mississippi River Commission, which provides water resources engineering and advice to the federal government.

OTTAWA – The nation’s largest towboat docked Saturday downstream from Morris because it could not pass under the railroad bridge on the Illinois River at Ottawa.

Actually, the trip was the first time upstream for the five-story M/V Mississippi, the flagship of the Army Corps of Engineers fleet. The vessel basically plies the lower Mississippi River and its tributaries.

“I’m very excited to say this is the furthest north on the Illinois River that it’s ever been,” noted Michael Cox, who watched as visitors flooded aboard during the towboat’s four-hour open house.

“It was in Peoria in 1997, in the first trip the Mississippi River Commission made on the Illinois River, so we’re very happy to see it up here.”

Commissioned in 1993, the five-story tugboat was built at a cost of $35 million, and is the largest towboat ever constructed in the United States. She burns 6,270 gallons of fuel per day when pushing a 16-barge tow. She can accommodate 78 overnight passengers and crew, and 175 day riders.

The MR Commission, of Vicksburg, Miss., provides water resources engineering direction and advice to the federal government, including the president, Congress, and the Army. The commission’s oversight takes in the Mississippi River drainage basin, which covers 41 percent of the United States.

“The commission will make recommendation to the president, and bring information they gather to Congress,” said Cox, the channel maintenance coordinator for the Corps’ Rock Island District. “They will use that to evaluate different projects that are authorized, to see where the funding should go. It’s just one other factor that Congress uses in evaluating the river system.”

Among the early visitors to board the vessel was Carol Stream resident Doyle Crane, who loved the experience, and appreciated the task of the MR Commission.

“A lot of grain is shipped by barge on the river,” he said. “They passed, I think, a $7 billion bill to work on the locks and dredging, but they can’t find the money to do it, so in the past 2 or 3 years, they’d done very little,” he said.

“Well, they got the $7 billion back. They’ve been (dredging the river bottom) for 20 years. At the locks (Starved Rock) below us, a sandbar built up, and the towboats had to wait to get through, one tug at a time. They just dredged through it. But the sand’s always moving.”

Jack McCullough of Ottawa has worked all over the country. Until Saturday, though, he’d only seen the M/V Mississippi at a distance.

“It’s quite the ship, or boat, or whatever,” he said. “It’s really neat that something can be made that’s so big and can move around so easily. It’s just kind of neat to see something up close you’ve only seen at a distance.”

McCullough recalled the amount of commerce that moves on the river, saying water is an easy means of transporting a large amount of product. He also noted that, over the course of time, the river will fill in with sand and sediment if not maintained.

“You’ve got to keep the barge traffic going, especially with all the grain and that,” he said. “That’s how it gets to market.”

McCullough worked on construction when the nuclear generating plants were built.

“And they had the world’s largest cranes, largest earthmovers and that,” he said. “It’s always amazing to see something that big. I don’t know how many tons this vessel weighs, but that it can actually move and push stuff. It’s just amazing that what a river barge can move in one load would take how many semi-trailer truckloads?”

Retired Ottawa police officer Bob Hylin brought his grandson to visit the vessel. He didn’t know towboats the size of the M/V Mississippi existed.

“I’m glad I came,” he said. “My grandson loves engines. It’s a lot of interesting information they’re handing out. There’s a lot of nice pictures of when they were building the locks years ago, and the dam. I’m interested in that kind of stuff.”

One of the main values Cox saw for the open house events at several ports on the Illinois River downstream from Ottawa is explaining to visitors the duties of the Corps and MR Commission.

“It really shows the locals, who do know about the river system, the importance of the system to themselves as far as navigation, recreation, flood control and water supplies go,” he said. “It is very important. It also helps show the public more about the diversity of the river.”

Cox termed the Illinois River a very important part of the state and its communities, especially those along the river.

Turnout for the tours, which end downstream on Thursday, Aug. 13, has been fantastic, he said.

“A similar open house in Peoria last Thursday had 2,437 people on tour in three hours,” Cox noted. “I’m told that’s the record for this boat for all the tours they’ve done.”

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