After a summer lost to flooding, the Missouri River has reopened to boating.
If you can get to the river.
John LaRandeau of the Army Corps of Engineers said the river opened this week from Ponca, Neb., to Rulo, Neb. Other stretches, including from Gavins Point Dam to Ponca and from Rulo southward, opened earlier, he said.
Most marinas along the Nebraska-Iowa border, including those in Omaha, Bellevue, Blair and Plattsmouth, remain closed because of flood damage.
Sketchy information is available on public ramps, simpler facilities than marinas that typically are faster to reopen.
In the Omaha metro area, the river ramp at Lake Manawa State Park will open "fairly soon," said Mark Sedlmayr, law enforcement supervisor for the southwest division of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Park officials are waiting for the silt and sand to dry a little more before clearing it from the ramp.
Otherwise, all of the metro area's public marinas are closed, local officials say, and it may be spring before any open.
At least two access sites are open in northeast Nebraska, one in southeast Nebraska and three in northwest Missouri.
LaRandeau said that boaters, even those familiar with the river, should use caution and make sure that everyone has a life vest and that other safety equipment is available.
"It's a different river than people are used to," said LaRandeau, the corps' Missouri River navigation expert.
The river is high, so wing dikes and obstacles are not clearly visible, sandbars and silt deposits have shifted and the riverbank has changed, he said.
However, the channel itself is free of debris, he said.
Favorite sandbars for picnicking could still be there, he said, but the river bottoms around them may have changed, so people should take extra care moving in and out of boats.
The U.S. Coast Guard said several areas of the river require extra vigilance, including: Boyer Bend at Mile Marker 633, north of Omaha, because the channel depth is uncertain and there has been extensive shoaling; and between Rulo and St. Joseph, Mo., because of swift currents.
The river is flowing at its normal speed, about 5 mph, LaRandeau said. In a few areas, the current is noticeably faster.
Kevin Holcer, who manages tow boat operations for AgriServices of Brunswick, Mo., said that south of Kansas City, the M/V Mary Lynn tow boat could only travel 1 mph because the current was so swift. Normally, barges can travel about 3 mph.
The Mary Lynn will be the first tow boat to push barges up the Nebraska-Iowa stretch of the river since it was closed June 7.
Holcer said the Mary Lynn is dropping fertilizer off at Nebraska City and construction materials in Blair.
Jim Bunstock, spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, said people should be cautious about contact with river water when the river is high.
Omaha, for example, has issued an advisory against direct contact with water along its banks. The city is discharging millions of gallons of wastewater into the river daily because flooding has disabled some of its pumping stations.
The river level at Omaha currently stands at 23 feet, according to the National Weather Service. Flood stage is 29 feet.
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