Red River Valley Association Seeks Support For 12-Foot Channel

The Red River Valley Association, along with the Red River Waterway Commission, is urging navigation stakeholders on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway—the commercially navigable reach of the Red River that stretches from Shreveport, La., to the Lower Mississippi River above Baton Rouge—to urge Congress to authorize a study of the benefits of deepening the waterway to 12 feet.

Currently, the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway is authorized and maintained at 9 feet deep and 200 feet wide. However, last spring, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers included in its annual report to Congress a proposal to study the merits of deepening the channel to 12 feet. For that study to move forward—and for the channel depth to go from 9 to 12 feet—Congress must authorize the project in a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill.

“Now that the Corps has approved the study/evaluation of a 12-foot channel, it is the responsibility of Congress to authorize this in a WRDA bill,” said Richard Brontoli, executive director of the Red River Valley Association, the four-state agency dedicated to promoting and developing industry along the Red River. “I believe it is very important for our delegation to hear from our communities, ports [and] industries how important this is for continuing to grow waterway use.”

In a letter to waterway stakeholders, Brontoli offered some compelling reasons why a depth of 12 feet on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway makes sense. Brontoli noted that major waterways south of Cairo, Ill., all have 12-foot channels except the Red River in Louisiana. Waterways authorized to 12 feet include the Mississippi River, Arkansas River, Atchafalaya River and Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

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“Barges destined for our waterway must be specially loaded to 9 feet, creating a great inefficiency for industry and shippers,” Brontoli said in his letter.

In addition, Brontoli said more than 90 percent of the 210-mile waterway already meets or exceeds 12 feet, and the five locks on the system can pass vessels with a 12-foot draft. Also, increasing the channel depth by a third would also boost cargo capacities by a third, offering a sizable boost in efficiency.

“We are certain that the benefits outweigh the costs for our waterway to be maintained at 12 feet,” Brontoli said in his letter. “Minimum maintenance dredging and navigation structures would be required. The savings per ton will enable the public ports to market the waterway and be competitive to recruit new industries. To compete and realize the full potential, the waterway must be authorized to 12 feet.”

Colin Brown, executive director of the Red River Waterway Commission, the state agency charged with managing the waterway, agreed, saying for the waterway to get to the next level of competition and success, the channel needs to be dredged to 12 feet.

“Deepening the channel on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway from 9 feet to 12 feet is a key step in the continued development of our waterway,” Brown said. “The tonnage that could be pushed in a standard 6-barge tow would increase dramatically with costs essentially remaining the same. This economic benefit to industries utilizing the waterway would allow for even more competition with the rail industry. These savings would be passed on to us as consumers, making this a national benefit, not just a benefit to industry.

Brontoli has asked waterway stakeholders to submit letters of support to members of Congress who represent waterway interests by the end of February.