Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Towboat's Back In Action In St. Paul

With state leaders in tow on the first day of spring, the Itasca pushed a barge up and down the Mississippi River in St. Paul. For deckhands Tom Hanes and Greg Gorgosz, Monday was the first day of spring training. For the first time since early December, Hanes of St. Paul and Gorgosz of Eagan were tossing fire-hose-size lines and cables and scrambling over a barge being pushed up and down the Mississippi River in St. Paul by the towboat Itasca. "I've missed the smell. I've missed the water," said Hanes, who has worked for Upper River Services since 1993, putting in about eight months a year. "Now we get to see all our friends."
Saint Paul Tugboat: Itasca
While Monday's run up and down the river was largely ceremonial, allowing state and local dignitaries to blast the horn signaling the opening of the shipping season, the work will begin for real later this week. That's when the first of the major downriver "line boats" arrive in St. Paul to begin swapping loads of fertilizer, salt, cement, caustic soda, coal and other commodities for corn, soybeans and some scrap steel and asphalt. Boats are smashing through frozen Lake Pepin, the last barrier between St. Paul and the rest of the shipping world, and the first vessel could arrive as soon as Wednesday, said Lee Nelson, president of Upper River Services.
After tying up the barge, Tom Hanes made his way back to the towboat so that the passengers could be dropped off at Lambert’s Landing in downtown St. Paul
Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who also is the state transportation commissioner, and Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson were on the Itasca Monday to emphasize the importance of river shipping to the Minnesota economy, particularly agriculture. Each river barge can carry the same material as 15 rail cars or 60 trucks, and many tows can push 15 or more barges at a time. They can push a ton of commodities 514 river miles on a gallon of fuel, according to the Transportation Department. About 6 percent of the nation's export grain gets shipped by barge out of the Twin Cities.

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