Corps Chief Signs Off On LMR Deepening

The quest to increase the depth of the Mississippi River ship channel between Baton Rouge, La., and the Gulf of Mexico to 50 feet moved one step closer to reality August 3 when James Dalton, chief engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, issued a memorandum to Secretary of the Army R.D. James in support of the plan.

The move would further open the river—and the ports of Plaquemines, St. Bernard, New Orleans, South Louisiana and Greater Baton Rouge—to larger deep-draft vessels carrying everything from agricultural and petroleum products to break bulk and containers.

Besides endorsing the plan as economically viable and environmentally beneficial, Dalton recommended that Congress appropriate the funds needed to move the project forward. Total cost is estimated at about $237 million, with the bulk of dredging required at Southwest Pass and at the crossings within the confines of the Port of South Louisiana. The increased cost of annual dredging to maintain the 50-foot channel is estimated at just under $18 million.

The non-federal sponsor for the project is the Louisiana Department of Transportation, which will shoulder 25 percent of the actual dredging cost, as well as utility relocation costs.

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Annual economic benefits are estimated to be in excess of $125 million—a rapid return on investment for both federal and state governments. The benefit-to-cost ratio for the project stands at 7.2 to 1.

The announcement was unanimously praised by Louisiana political and business leaders.

“This is truly a great moment for Louisiana and the thousands of men and women whose livelihood depends upon the Mississippi River,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “One in five jobs in Louisiana is tied to our ports, and this project will help to make our world-renowned port system even more competitive, while creating opportunities for manufacturers, growers and producers who rely on our ports up and down the entire Mississippi River.”

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition, said the impacts of deepening the ship channel will be far-reaching.

“The Mississippi River Ship Channel deepening project has been the No. 1 infrastructure goal of the Big River Coalition since we revitalized the effort with the assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in 2011,” Duffy said. “The channel deepening would generate commerce, stimulate coastal restoration and enhance the water carrying capacity of the gateway to the center of America. The multiple benefits include substantive transportation cost savings to the American farmers, job creation throughout the nation’s interior, and increased flood protection of businesses, farms and homes.”

The Corps released its final report this past April. The project now awaits an appropriation in the fiscal year 2019 budget.