It’s All Connected: Inland Waterways Critical to Affordable and Reliable Energy

Headquartered at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, Paducah, Kentucky is home to a vibrant barge and towboat industry. In 1948 George Crounse had the vision to build his first towboat with borrowed money from an aunt. Fast-forward 65-years, 35 towboats, 1100 barges and 350 employees later – Crounse Corporation is a leader in the pack and one of Paducah’s oldest and most prominent employers –  moving over  30 million tons of cargo throughout the U.S. river system, serving electric utilities and manufacturers throughout the Midwest region.

Coal is the lifeblood of Crounse – keeping utilities well supplied with coal from Pennsylvania, the Illinois basin, Appalachia and even the Powder River Basin.  And thanks to an abundant supply and growing overseas demand, coal is also finding its way on Crounse barges headed to export. Threats to eliminate coal power plants create economic uncertainty for manufacturers who rely on low cost electricity to remain competitive. Crounse towboat pilots, many of whom are third- and fourth-generation operators on the inland waterway system, also face the same uncertainty because their jobs are dependent on the transport of coal.

The nation’s river system is not only a livelihood for Crounse but its viability and health is deeply ingrained in Crounse culture. Employees participate annually in a river clean-up operation sponsored by the East Moline, IL-based Living Lands & Waters conservation group. Known for its “industrial strength” river cleanups around the nation, Living Lands & Waters brings the Paducah inland waterway community together and Crounse employees are proud to participate in these clean-up efforts.

Passing H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act  of 2013(WRRDA) is a priority for Crounse CEO Stephen Little not just because it is several years overdue but unreliability on the river system is a growing threat to efficiently serve Crounse customers. “Many locks and dams have exceeded their capabilities and are operating well-beyond their intended design life,” Little said.

Steve sees big challenges ahead  – additional revenue is going to be needed for the Inland Waterway Trust Fund  in order to modernize and keep up with the demands of a 21st century economy. “One-hundred years ago inland navigation stopped for parts of the year. Lock and dam construction has transformed inland navigation and the regional economy in Paducah.”

Little says, “Crounse is just one small link in the economic chain” but for manufacturers, it’s a link that cannot be broken.

It’s All Connected is a blog series by manufacturers focused on the need for authorization of the Water Resources Development Act.

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