BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) The federal body that oversees use of the Mississippi River is insisting that the Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana pay for increased dredging of the river that will be needed because of planned coastal erosion projects.
At issue are diversions — essentially holes cut in river walls to allow sediment to flow back into marsh. The problem is that diversions also would lower river levels, allowing more sediment to build up on the river bottom. The Mississippi River Commission said that will mean increased dredging costs, although no one knows how much, to keep the river navigable to shipping traffic.
During a meeting of the Breaux Act Task Force, a state-federal panel overseeing coastal restoration projects, the commission’s stance was outlined by Col. Al Lee, commander of the corps’ New Orleans District office.
The corps and state have plans for building several dozen diversions of different sizes along the Mississippi, and possibly along the Atchafalaya River, which also is under the commission’s control.
The projects will be built under several different programs and financing sources, including the federal Breaux Act, which is financing smaller restoration projects; the coastal impact assistance program, which is building one or two moderate-sized diversions with offshore oil revenue given to Louisiana by the federal government; the Louisiana coastal area ecosystem restoration plan, which is building several small and moderate diversions with federal and state money; and the federal-state Louisiana coastal protection and restoration study, which is under development and could include a number of diversions of different sizes.
Most of the projects will eventually be turned over to the state, which is responsible for the cost of operating and maintaining them, a cost that now could go up considerably if it includes future dredging requirements related to their operation, corps officials said.
Corps Breaux Act program manager Melanie Goodman said a project that calls for creating a sump in the river to capture sediment continuously and pump it through pipelines to build wetlands several miles away could reduce dredging costs — if it works.
“But new projects that impact the river, if they affect our operations and maintenance requirements, those new projects would be responsible for the incremental cost increase,” Goodman said. “If they result in 9 million cubic yards of sediment being deposited, the new project would have to pay the incremental cost of removing it.”
Lee said the corps already is struggling to pay for dredging the river, due to a 7 percent reduction in maintenance money in its proposed fiscal year 2009 budget.
The result could be disastrous for the Breaux Act, which already is struggling to meet the financial demands of its first 17 years of project approvals, most of which have not yet been built.