The Waiting Game

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They're not heard from very often, but barge companies are as much a part of the local economy as the industries to whom they ship goods, and one of them is facing a situation it's never seen before.

Richard Neale represents the second generation of a family that has run this barge transportation business for years.

"We collect the barges here and distribute them to factories as they need them," Neale says.

And Neale says he's never seen anything like what has happened to the Ohio River in the past two weeks: a river stage that was near a 40-year-high just a few years ago is now close to a record low.

"At the mid-point between the two locks, we still have water, but it is rapidly falling. We're losing 25 one-hundredths (of a foot) an hour."

Like others of its kind, this business is in a wait-and-see pattern, and if predictions of this problem going on for weeks come true, the effects on the local economy could be devastating.

"As the plants have to start cutting back production, the freight can't move through here," Neale explains. "There's a lot of freight that comes through from Pittsburgh and down to New Orleans, and that's a major impact."

Local industries can find other means of transportation for goods such as coal they need, the drop in the river level could affect water supplies they use for industrial production.