WEDA Midwest Meeting Highlights Dredging Growth
The March 23 meeting of the Midwest Chapter of the Western Dredging Association (WEDA) in Green Bay, Wis., highlighted the growth in demand for dredging services due to passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which funded many dredging-related projects.
Infrastructure projects are long-term investments, and so are the investments the private dredging companies make to keep up with demand. A presentation by Richard Balzano, CEO of the Dredging Contractors of America (DCA), noted the challenges that come from demand spikes.
Balzano, who took over the reins at DCA last year, recently served for three years as the presidentially appointed deputy administrator for the U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd). He is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, retiring from the U.S. Navy at the rank of captain. In the private sector, Balzano held leading positions in the defense, commercial maritime and nuclear utility industries. In the public sector, he served as senior staff on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security.
Balzano noted that the dredging industry is investing in major equipment without contacts in hand, which is “not normal for the maritime industry.” While future demand is assured, he noted the challenges of finding and training labor as what he called the “silver tsunami” of retirements approaches. Rising costs of all inputs, including lumber, fuel, steel and wages, are also affecting expansion plans.
Nevertheless, the industry has invested $2 billion since 2018 in three large hopper dredges, with another one in development.
St. Paul District
Robert Stanick, chief of channels and harbors at the St. Paul Engineer District, reported on work being done in the district, which comprises 248 miles of 9-foot navigation channels on the Mississippi, Minnesota, St. Croix and Black rivers. The Corps dredge Goetz and private dredging contractors have been repairing and restoring damage from the 2019 floods.
Most locations have been restored to their 2019 widths, according to Stanick. The district is implementing a dredged material management plan for Pool 2, while drafting plans for public review for Pools 4 and 6 and developing alternatives for Pool 10.
In Pool 2, the district is placing about 400,000 cubic yards of dredged material from Pine Bend, Upper Boulanger and Lower Boulanger to create new habitat. The project will run through 2025.
Rock Island District
Chris Reger, dredge coordinator of the Rock Island Engineer District’s operations and technical support branch, gave an overview of the district’s dredging activities. The district dredges an average of about 400,000 cubic yards from the Mississippi River and 200,000 cubic yards from the Illinois River each year. For hydrographic surveys, it employs four of its own vessels, the Cormorant, Coot, Dubuque and Clark. Since the 1986 Water Resources Development Act created the Upper Mississippi River Restoration program, the district has completed 55 habitat projects covering about 100,000 acres of aquatic and floodplain habitat.
St. Louis District
The St. Louis Engineer District manages one of the busiest sections of the Mississippi River. Besides parts of the Illinois river, it also has responsibility for the Kaskaskia River and the Southeast Missouri Port, or SEMOPort, said Lance Engle, dredging project manager for the St. Louis District. In 2021, the Corps dredge Potter worked from July 2020 through February 2021, while the Goetz worked in October. The Luhr Bros-contracted dredge Bill Holman, normally stationed in the Louisville Engineer District, worked on SEMOPort’s harbor in September through October of last year. On Lake Carlyle, the headwaters of the Kaskaskia River, a contract dredge with a 14-inch cutterhead is currently in its fourth option year.
The district is recreating 75 acres of islands—Piasa Island and Eagle’s Nest Island—in Madison and Jersey counties in Illinois. So far the project has moved about 1.2 million cubic yards of material, consisting of 85 percent sand and 15 percent clay. The project is part of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program near Pool 26. According to Engle, a multi-year contract for further work on this contract is expected to be let in the fourth quarter of 2022, if funds are available. The contract will be seasonally restricted.