Posted: December 28, 2012 at 12:36 a.m.

— River’s barge

traffic threatened

ST. LOUIS - Barge industry trade groups warned Thursday that Mississippi River commerce could essentially come to a halt as early as next week in an area south of St. Louis.

Mike Petersen of the Army Corps of Engineers said ice on the northern Mississippi is reducing the flow more than expected at the middle part of the river that is already at a low-water point unseen in decades, the result of months of drought.

The river level is now expected to get to 3 feet at the Thebes, Ill., gauge on Jan.

6, a juncture that could force new limitations. Worse still, the long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for the river to keep falling, reaching 2 feet on Jan. 23.

The Coast Guard remains confident that the nation’s largest waterway will remain open. But officials with two trade groups - the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc. - said in a joint news release that even if the river is open, further limits on barges will bring commercial traffic to a halt.

Thebes, about 150 miles south of St. Louis, is a treacherous spot for barge operators because of hazardous rock formations and a big bend in the river. The corps is in the process of removing the rocks but work isn’t expected to be finished until mid- to late-January at the earliest.

  • The Associated Press State gas prices rise 5 cents

The average price of a gallon of gasoline in Arkansas has risen about 5 cents in the last week, according to auto club AAA.

The average price Thursday for regular unleaded gasoline in the state was $3.085, compared with $3.031, a week ago.

The national average price for gasoline Thursday was $3.261 a gallon, up 1.4 cents from Wednesday. The price is now 3 cents above a year ago.

Gasoline for January delivery gained 0.55 cent to settle Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange at $2.8213 a gallon, a 10-week high. Volume was 37 percent below average.

The price of crude oil fell slightly Thursday. The U.S.

benchmark crude fell 11 cents to settle at $90.87 per barrel in New York.

Brent crude, used to price various kinds of foreign oil, fell 27 cents to settle at $110.80 per barrel in London.

  • Democrat-Gazette

staff and Associated PressArkansas Index falls 0.13

The Arkansas Index, a price-weighted index that tracks the largest public companies based in the state, fell 0.13 to 245.90 Thursday.

Trucking companies were among the best and worst performers.

P.A.M. Transportation Services rose 3 percent with only about 200 shares traded.

USA Truck climbed 1.8 percent on a third of its normal volume.

Arkansas Best lost 1.9 percent on below-average trading.

The index was developed by Bloomberg News and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette with a base value of 100 as of Dec. 30, 1997.

Business, Pages 21 on 12/28/2012