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Mississippi River ice still 29 inches thick on Lake Pepin

LA CROSSE - The wheels of commerce are moving slower-than-normal on the Mississippi River, thanks to our long cold winter.  The first northbound barge usually gets to La Crosse by now.  But the Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday the nearest vessel was about 200 miles to the south, at Bettendorf, Iowa.  

The delays could mean trouble for road crews, construction firms, and utilities that rely on the river barges to bring them supplies and equipment.  Some companies planned ahead, and had materials shipped by rail.  

Meanwhile, the Army Corps said the ice was still 29 inches deep last Wednesday on a wide river opening at Lake Pepin.  That's the deepest since 1998, when the Corps started taking measurements.  They'll check the lake again tomorrow.  

Normally, barges can break through 12-to-15 inches of ice on Lake Pepin -- and it's their last major obstacle before reaching Minneapolis-Saint Paul.