By Karl Plume
(Reuters) - Commercial shipping traffic on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis was restored late on Tuesday when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed emergency repairs to a lock gate damaged by a boat earlier in the day.
Army Corps spokesman Mike Petersen said on Wednesday that 15 barge tows containing 85 barges were waiting to pass through the lock at 9:30 a.m. CST (10.30 a.m. ET). He said a queue of 19 tows containing 142 barges had formed before the lock reopened at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday.
The accident at Lock 27 near Granite City, Illinois, the system's busiest lock, occurred early on Tuesday in the auxiliary chamber. It is the only operational lock as the larger main chamber is closed for scheduled repairs until March.
Although vessel traffic on what is known as the mid-Mississippi River was seasonally slow, the lock closure was the latest logistics headache for shippers that rely on the inland waterways system to haul billions of dollars of grain, coal, fertilizer and other commodities.
Low water along a busy stretch between St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois, has been threatening to disrupt traffic on the drought-drained river since December.
Dredging operations have slowed traffic at various points of the river for months.
A six-mile stretch at Thebes, Illinois, has been closed for 16 hours a day since December as the Army Corps works to remove river-bottom rock pinnacles that pose a threat to boats during low water conditions.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool)