MRC Concludes High Water Inspection Tour In Baton Rouge

The Mississippi River Commission (MRC) concluded its annual high-water inspection trip aboard the mv. Mississippi on April 8 in Baton Rouge, La. It was the fourth stop along the Mississippi River, with prior stops at Caruthersville, Mo., Memphis, Tenn., and Greenville, Miss.

The Baton Rouge stop attracted a wide range of state leaders, waterway advocates, legislators, port officials, environmentalists, operators and terminal representatives.

Chip Kline, board chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, spoke on behalf of the Morganza to the Gulf project, a levee project under consideration that will protection portions of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes from storm surge. Kline pointed out that the Morganza to the Gulf project boasts a 5:1 benefit-cost ratio.

“Please continue to support Morganza to the Gulf,” Kline said. “Completing the Morganza to the Gulf system is the state’s No. 1 priority for risk reduction in south Louisiana. Louisiana has also paid $800 million of its cost-share of the Hurricane-Storm Damage Risk Reduction System. The state has also spent millions of state dollars to restore wetlands in the Louisiana coastal area. These projects are federally authorized and are in the federal interest and are being constructed at no cost to the federal government.”

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Kline also noted that Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief engineer and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has testified to Congress that the Louisiana’s wetlands work helped guard the risk reduction system during Hurricane Ida in 2021.

“We need the Corps to recognize the synergy,” Kline said. “Grant the crediting of our extensive restoration projects and allow for a more flexible opportunity to apply credit.”

Kline wasn’t the only person to speak in favor of the Morganza to the Gulf project. Reggie Dupre, executive director of the Terrebonne Levee & Conservation District, and two other leaders from the area outlined the work the state and local communities have already done on the project, which dates all the way back to a reconnaissance study in 1992. According to Dupre, more than a billion dollars has already been spent on portions of the project, with the expectation that Congress will appropriate the funds and direct the Corps to complete it.

Bayou Chene

Mac Wade, executive director of the Port of Morgan City, also in the south-central part of the state, asked the Corps to set aside $24.4 million in order to dredge the Bayou Chene portion of Morgan City’s channel to its full dimensions.

“This is the deal of a lifetime for you,” Wade said.

That’s because, according to Wade, once dredged, that portion of the channel will not require further dredging for five years. In addition, all of the 8 million cubic yards of material that needs to be removed from the channel at Bayou Chene can be used beneficially, adding to an already huge success story of the beneficial use of dredged material on the lower Atchafalaya River.

Wade was sure to highlight the success of the specially built dredge that Brice Civil Constructors operates in the Atchafalaya bar channel to disperse the fluid mud that clogged the channel for years. The dredge accomplishes an open bar channel at a dramatic cost reduction compared to a cutterhead or hopper dredge ($0.10 to $0.20 per cubic yard compared to $4 to $6).

Dredging, Wade said, is imperative, not just to support navigation in Morgan City, but also because the Atchafalaya drains 30 percent of the Mississippi River, regardless of its volume at any given time, along with all of the flows of the Red and Ouachita rivers.

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition, outlined for the MRC the concept of “invisible infrastructure” on the Mississippi River Ship Channel. Invisible infrastructure includes air draft sensors, electronic chart data and even pipelines that cross below the riverbed.

Pipelines crossing the river near Venice, La., have actually slowed the effort to drop the maximum draft on the ship channel to 50 feet, due to the fact that the Corps lacks the survey equipment to accurately locate and certify their depths. The two pilots associations that operate near Head of Passes have been cautious in increasing the maximum draft, which first went to 48 feet and then to 49. A pair of coal export ships have so far set the records for highest draft vessel exiting the river. The largest inbound ship was carrying iron ore, Duffy said.

Duffy urged the Corps to mobilize the necessary equipment to properly map pipelines crossing the lower river.

“We need to know how deep those pipelines are so we don’t find out by mistake,” Duffy said.

Rep. Garrett Graves (R-La.), who serves on the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, along with the Water Resources & Environment Subcommittee, brought a long list of concerns before the commission. He gave an impassioned speech against the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program’s “Risk Rating 2.0: Equity in Action” rate algorithm.

“We’re in a war,” Graves said, borrowing a famous James Carville quote.

Graves said residents in south Louisiana are poised to see their flood insurance rates balloon from less than $600 to in excess of $5,000 annually. Graves argued the rate hikes will either force residents to either not renew their policies or move elsewhere. Graves said it wasn’t the fault of south Louisiana residents that sea levels are rising and that the region is experiencing land subsidence from levee construction and pipelines crisscrossing wetlands.