LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (AP) — The Butcher, a cutterhead dredge that can chew through silt like a beaver through a weeping willow, is on the way to clear the clogged channel leading into the Lake Providence Port harbor.

U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, along with U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, say they've received commitments from the Army Corps of Engineers that the Dredge Butcher will be en route to the port before the end of the week. Once there, it will likely take about 20 days to clear the channel and harbor.

"They call it the Butcher, but we don't care what it's called as long as it gets the jobs done," Alexander said. "We hope its arrival will prevent a serious interruption of the summer harvest."

As many as 24 million bushels of soybeans and corn are expected to be shipped by barges from the port if its channel is dredged. The News-Star reports ( low Mississippi River levels have landlocked the port, clogging the channel to its harbor and preventing barge traffic from going in or out.

Farmers and agriculture officials said the region doesn't have the truck or rail capacity to transport the coming crops.

"It's so important to get this bumper crop to market for our country and the world," said Landrieu, who spoke directly to Gen. John Peabody, commander of the corps' Mississippi Valley Division. "This is an urgent need for our farmers, but the bigger picture is the supply we get to the market will help everybody."

A mound of sand at the confluence of the channel leading into the port harbor and a drainage canal has left just five feet of clearance to reach the river, not enough for barges loaded with grain.

The corps has twice sent a dredge to the port this summer but ran out of money before it could clear the hump clogging the channel. The previous efforts were made with dustpan dredges, which weren't adequate to clear the chute. Cutterhead dredges have blades that swing from side to side to clear the way.

"We are very pleased with the attention and rapid response of Gen. Peabody and the Corps of Engineers in dealing with this critical situation," said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, who toured the port earlier this week.


Information from: The News-Star,