Users Board Wants New Bayou Sorrell Study

The Inland Waterways Users Board gathered May 23 in New Orleans, La., for its 91st meeting since Congress established the board as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 1986. For six board members, the New Orleans meeting was their last.

Users Board members rotating off included ACBL’s Marty Hettel, outgoing chairman of the board; vice chairman Matt Woodruff from Kirby; Scott Neininger with CGB; Tidewater’s David Kontz and Bruce Reed; Tim Parker III and Charles Haun of Parker Towing; and Dan Mecklenborg of Ingram.

Hettel offered his thanks to all the members finishing their terms in May for their longstanding commitment to the board.

“Please accept my sincere gratitude for your organization and yourselves for serving on the Inland Waterways Users Board for the last six years, and with putting up with me for the last six years,” Hettel said.

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Hettel noted how busy the board has been over the past six years, with 23 meetings in 18 different cities and 16 waterway project site visits.

“This was due to the board’s goal of looking at the entire inland waterways as a system,” he said.

And that commitment has resulted in significant accomplishments for both the board and waterways users systemwide. Hettel noted that now the Users Board works much more closely with the Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes and Ohio River divisions of the Corps of Engineers ahead of lock maintenance projects. In addition, Lock Performance Monitoring System data now reflects when vessel tows arrive at projects. Users Board appointments, Hettel said, are now staggered so that the board no longer experiences complete turnover from term to term. And from a project standpoint, Hettel celebrated that Olmsted Locks and Dam is operational, that funding is in hand for major rehabilitation at LaGrange Lock and Dam, and that completions of the Lower Monongahela, Kentucky and Chickamauga lock projects are on the horizon.

“All in all, I believe we have had a good run at improving our inland waterways infrastructure these past six years,” he said.

Hettel concluded by recognizing remaining board members and new members, who were sworn in later in May.

New Users Board members include Dennis Oakley of Bruce Oakley Inc., Canal Barge Company’s Spencer Murphy, Jeff Webb of Cargill Marine & Terminal, Marquette’s Damon Judd, Tim Powers with SCF Marine Inc., and Rob Rich of Shaver Transportation.

Returning board members include incoming chairman Rob Innis of LafargeHolcim, incoming vice chairman Mike Monahan of Campbell Transportation, Dow Chemical Company’s Mike Fewell, David Earl of Marathon Petroleum and Matt Ricketts of Crounse Corporation.

Maj. Gen. Scott Spellmon, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations for the Corps of Engineers, offered his thanks for the role the Users Board plays for the Corps nationally and for the nation as a whole.

“We could not do this without you—we couldn’t,” Spellmon said. “When people dressed like me go to argue our budgets … or head up to Congress for testimony and we’re armed with the expertise from this group, it’s incredibly valuable.”

Spellmon then presented each of the departing Users Board members with a note of appreciation and a challenge coin.

The May 23 Users Board meeting wasn’t all reflective. Board members looked first at waterway infrastructure in South Louisiana, particularly Bayou Sorrel Lock near Port Allen, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) Lock in New Orleans, and Calcasieu Lock near Lake Charles. The Users Board visited both Bayou Sorrel Lock and the IHNC Lock the day prior to their New Orleans meeting.

Bayou Sorrel Lock

Hettel focused attention on Bayou Sorrel Lock, which was the subject of a replacement feasibility study in the early-2000s. The study, dated November 2003, recommended a new, larger lock measuring 75 feet by 1,200 feet. The Mississippi River Commission endorsed the plan in September 2004, and the Corps’ Chief of Engineers signed off on the plan in January 2005. However, cost estimates increased during the preconstruction, engineering and design phase, triggering a new economic analysis.

“Economic analyses determined that traffic growth projections used during the feasibility study were no longer valid,” said the executive summary of the September 2013 Bayou Sorrel Lock Replacement Post Authorization Change Study. “The updated prediction of flat oil production in the Gulf of Mexico over the next 50 years has a major influence on Gulf Intracoastal Waterway traffic levels.

“The consequence of significant cost increases to the replacement lock in concert with reduced traffic benefits is that the recommended plan is no longer economically justified,” the executive summary said.

However, extensive petrochemical development has taken place in the vicinity of Bayou Sorrel since the Post Authorization Change Study, along with a boom in resin exports. In addition, lock performance monitoring has improved, which presents a more accurate picture of waterway traffic congestion.

“When the 2013 report was issued, the delays were averaging about 45 minutes,” Hettel said. “The lock master told us that, now with the more accurate reporting, those delays are actually averaging about 17 hours. That would certainly change the benefit-cost ratio for this lock.”

Hettel said the Port Allen Route on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which cuts out the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans or avoids Algiers Lock, makes perfect sense for operators serving the petrochemical industry.

“I want to know how we can initiate another [General Reevaluation Report] on the replacement of Bayou Sorrel,” he said.

Woodruff noted that much of the economic data that went into the Post Authorization Change Study was conducted during the recession around 2008.

“There have been and continue to be billions of dollars invested in petrochemical facilities along the Gulf Coast, primarily to take advantage of the low cost shale gas and the ability to turn that into a variety of products,” he said.

Woodruff added that the Port Allen Route through Bayou Sorrel is a preferred route for barges carrying products from Houston to the Heartland.

“It’s critical,” he said. “We certainly don’t see it as a dying route by any stretch of the imagination.”

Fewell, who works for Dow Chemical, echoed Woodruff, adding that the Port Allen Route takes two days off transit times.

“With normal delays at Algiers, and I’m not talking about flooding, we save two days transit to go up the Port Allen Route to Baton Rouge and down to New Orleans,” Fewell said, adding, “Bayou Sorrel most definitely needs to be looked at again.”

Fewell said, when a new economic study is conducted, commodities shipped and their values should be taken into consideration.

“Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and all your refined chemicals are the building blocks for everything else this country needs to maintain the economy we have right now,” Fewell said.

The board unanimously adopted a resolution supporting a new study into the economic feasibility of the replacement of Bayou Sorrel Lock.

The board also heard a report on simulations for a Calcasieu Lock bypass channel to address drainage issues in the Mermentau River Basin, along with updates on other projects within the Mississippi Valley Division, including the IHNC Lock and LaGrange Lock and Dam.

Value Engineering

Michael Tarpey from the Corps of Engineers’ Rock Island District overviewed the Inland Navigation Design Center (INDC), specifically the ways the center can identify design improvements and cost savings. Tarpey looked specifically at the Upper Ohio River Project, which will construct new lock chambers at Emsworth, Dashields and Montgomery locks and dams, and how INDC conducted a value engineering study which identified ways to cut costs and construction times.

The fiscal year 2017 cost for the Upper Ohio River Project totaled close to $2.7 billion, with Emsworth estimated at $868 million, Dashields at $924 million and Montgomery’s cost estimated at $898 million. The planning, engineering and design phase was originally to run from fiscal year 2019 to 2021, with construction going from 2021 to 2029.

INDC assembled a team of 19 experts from four Corps districts and four centers of expertise to take a closer look at construction methods, design solutions, risk reduction, disposal alternatives and automation. Recommendations from the value engineering study included using a hanging form system for lock walls rather than coffer boxes, replacing mechanical gate systems on the dams with passive labyrinth weirs, filling and emptying the chamber through the lock wall and beneficially using excavated materials.

Remarkably, after the value engineering study, INDC now estimates cost for the projects to be $1.5 billion—a savings of close to $1.2 billion. The value engineered construction timeline was six years, rather than the original eight years.

Users Board members quickly honed in on the obvious impact of project costs reductions—improved benefit-cost ratios for projects and more efficient use of Corps and Inland Waterways Trust Fund dollars. The board approved a resolution to request a briefing from the Corps on the agency’s procedures regarding value engineering, how it’s incorporated into current feasibility studies and how value engineering can be applied to current projects.