Decline in river traffic, coal demand to blame for Jeffboat closure

Ohio River barge traffic is down. (Source: Air 3, WAVE 3 News)
Ohio River barge traffic is down. (Source: Air 3, WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Mar. 26, 2018 at 11:30 PM EDT
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Jeffboat's closure will affect hundreds of employees. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Jeffboat's closure will affect hundreds of employees. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - Jeffboat, the largest inland shipyard in the country, confirmed Monday morning they'll be shutting down in the coming weeks, citing a decline in market conditions.

On Saturday, we heard from some of the 220 employees who will be out of the job.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: After 180 years, Jeffboat to close for good

In the 1940s, the shipyard employed around 13,000 people.

But what's changed so much in the shipping industry to shut down a longtime Jeffersonville business?

Indiana University Southeast professor of economics Eric Schansberg told us shipping on the river started declining steadily three years ago.

"If you look at the internal river traffic in the U.S., its fallen by about 8%," Schansberg said. "But the Ohio River has fallen by about 16% in the last three years -- and the bulk of that is coal."

A shift toward cleaner energy has decreased the demand for coal, a commodity often shipped on the river. According to 2016 statistics, it's been on a steady decline over the last three years.

"Declining coal means declining shipments, means less river traffic, which means fewer barges -- and so Jeffboat struggles with that,"Schansberg said.

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In a statement released Monday, Jeffboat owners said with orders running out and no future backlog of business, they have no other choice than to close down.

"It's very difficult for Jeffboat employees, the ones that remain and the ones that have been transitioned out the last few years," Schansberg said. "But for the local economy it's just part of what happens in a market economy. Companies close, companies open. So it's bad news for them. For the overall economy, it's not a big d rop."

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