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Corps Seeks to Deepen New Orleans Port

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

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According to reports, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of New Orleans intend to modify the Mississippi River Ship Channel navigation through deepening channel approaches and other associated areas.

It is anticipated that the Port of New Orleans Access will also have its channels deepened, with materials from construction placed in the adjacent portion of the MRSC.

About the Project

In the 2016 Water Resources Development Act, the Secretary announced that a study would be conducted to determine the feasibility of deepening the channel approaches and associated areas at the Mississippi River Ship Channel in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The study was authorized by section 201(a) of the Harbor Development and Navigation Improvement Act of 1986 (Public Law 99–662; 100 Stat. 4090).

Gnovick, CC-BY-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to reports, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of New Orleans intend to modify the Mississippi River Ship Channel navigation through deepening channel approaches and other associated areas.

Associated areas of the project include the descending bank of the Mississippi River between mile 98.3 and mile 100.6 markers, which is adjacent to the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans. Due to the proximity, it is assumed that the Port of New Orleans Access Channel would also be deepened, with construction materials placed adjacent to portions of the MRSC existing at depths greater than 50 feet.

The deepening would make the ports and river accessible to modern “New Panamax” vessels, which are noted to be built larger than past ships used in the Panama Canal, and other "Post Panamax" vessels.

In 2018, the Corps issued a report on the project, recommending congressional approval as the deepening project would result in benefits averaging $127.5 million a year to the nation's economy. At the time of the study, the average annual cost of maintaining the channel was $17.7 million.

During the time of the announcement, reports indicated that 256 miles of the river would need to be deepened, costing an estimated $237.7 million. This includes $39.4 million in dredging and $80.2 million in pipeline and utility adjustments.

Although, reports add that sediment dredged from lower portions of the river would be used to build roughly 2.2 square miles of new wetlands in federal Delta National Wildlife Refuge and the state's Pass A Loutre Wildlife Management Area.

By February of this year, nola.com reported that the Corps would spend $85.35 million this year to begin deepening parts of the Mississippi River navigation channel between Baton Rouge and the river's mouth to 50 feet.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump revealed in his fiscal year 2021 budget, that an additional $45.7 million was slated for the dredging project.

"The Mississippi River Basin has an unprecedented impact on our national economy, global competitiveness and American job creation,” said Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, at the time. “Modernizing our infrastructure and deepening the river to 50 feet will help strengthen Louisiana’s dominance in domestic and international commerce.”

A few months later in April, the Corps released its draft environmental assessment of the project, finding that there were no significant impacts. The following month, the Corps hosted a virtual public meeting on May 20.

A full presentation on the project can be viewed, here.

What’s Happening Now

To access New Orleans’ port’s Uptown wharves, the Corps has recommended that nearly 2.5 miles is dredged to a 50-foot depth, as to accommodate for larger ocean-going vessels. Currently, the port's Milan Street and Louisiana Avenue wharves are limited to ships with drafts of 35 feet or less.

Additional wharfs, Nashville Avenue and Napoleon Avenue drafts vary between 35 and 45 feet.

In areas in front of the wharves, dredging would measure 54 feet, as to allow for sediment to fill in part of the new depth between redredging periods.

For the project, initial dredging would be completed over five years in two phases by the port's existing dredge contractors. While this portion of the MRSC dredging project doesn’t involve building wetlands, reports indicate that collected sediment materials would instead be dumped into the 200-foot-deep main channel.

With most of the dredging work being completed in phase one but could experience issues at the Napoleon Avenue wharf. This section of the project reveals that the riverbank’s slope beneath the wharf fails to meet its stability standards, and would need to be upgraded prior to entering phase two of the project.

According to nola.com, the project is estimated to coast just over $9 million for the initial dredging, with the Corps picking up 65% of the cost and the port paying the remaining 35%. Once completed, project benefits are expected to rack up about $35.9 million a year, but would cost an estimated $730,000 a year to maintain.

Maintenance costs are also expected to be covered by the Corps.

The Corps is slated to make an initial decision on whether to approve the dredging project on Aug. 28; However, reviews by other layers of Corps engineering infrastructure will not be completed until late February 2022. Congressional approval is expected to be reached no later than mid-2022.

   

Tagged categories: Infrastructure; NA; North America; Port Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Ships and vessels; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Upcoming projects

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