NEW HANOVER COUNTY (WECT) – The hot temperature of last summer and dry winter from the year before has caused massive interruptions of barge traffic on the country's most important waterway, the Mississippi River. Everything from fertilizer to corn and coal are shipped along the winding river to cities across the country. But a drought has caused the river level to fall to dangerously low levels, low enough that commerce has been greatly affected.
While not as busy with barge traffic as the Mississippi River, a large volume of cargo is shipped by water along the east coast.
The Intracoastal Waterway runs for most of the length of the Eastern Seaboard. Around here, the ICW is a boater's paradise, from those heading out for a day on the water for fun and fishing.
On the east coast, some of the traffic in fall and winter is by snowbirds, who head south in the winter and north in the summer, but the waterway was actually built for another reason.
"It was built just before the second World War to transport military goods up and down the east coast," said Marine Captain Stanley Willis.
Today, it is not uncommon to see barges transporting a variety of goods to locations up and down the east coast. Willis has been working on the water for over 25 years.
"There is really not one cargo, but just a whole variety of stuff," said Willis about the cargo the barges on the ICW carry. "There is a lot of fuel runs up and down the Waterway."
But on this voyage from Norfolk, Virginia, Willis is towing a series of barges, loaded with dredges, to be used in the water behind Figure Eight Island. From the bridge of his tug, it is almost a quarter of a mile to the last vessel he is towing, all piggy-backed together.
The water is much calmer in the ICW, and because of the large amount of cargo a barge can carry, it is much more economical to transport the goods this way, than by rail or on the highway.
While he stays busy, Willis says, like everything else, the recession of 2008 has impacted the amount of barge traffic on the ICW.
"It is not quite as active today, as it was five or six years ago, before the economy folded," said Willis. "But it is still fairly active, there is a lot of stuff you can't take off-shore, in the ocean, but you can get it down the waterway, when the weather is bad, you can bring things down on a smaller barge."
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a fun place to spend a day on the water, and an important part of America's industrial transportation system.
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