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SIOUX CITY | Shipping barges rarely pass through Sioux City's stretch of the Missouri River nowadays.
But during the 1990s, more than 100 came through Sioux City each year, carrying massive loads of goods and industrial equipment in and out of the city.
Barges are enormous, flat-bottomed vessels that can carry up to five times their own weight. For the largest barges, that can be up to 1,500 tons.
The boats are typically lashed together and pushed from behind by a towboat or pulled by a tugboat.
Sioux City's barge business ran dry around 2003, after years of flooding and environmental lawsuits prevented the Army Corps of Engineers from providing consistent water levels.
The industry made a brief return in July, when CF Industries contracted a barge to haul hundreds of thousands of pounds of equipment to its expanding fertilizer plant in Port Neal. The company had to ship the materials by barge because they were too heavy to ship easily along rail or roadways.
After the delivery, some speculated that the shipment might spark renewed interest in barge shipping. The Siouxland Chamber of Commerce suggested that shipping along the region's water lanes would complement the air, rail and road infrastructure Sioux City already possesses.
CF plans to complete 10-15 more shipments via barge over the next several months, but the longterm future of the industry remains unclear.