Gov. John Bel Edwards and other top Louisiana officials signed a formal agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin construction on the deepening of the Lower Mississippi River to 50 from 45 ft. (AJOT photo)
Gov. John Bel Edwards and other top Louisiana officials signed a formal agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on July 31 to begin construction on the deepening of the Lower Mississippi River from 45 to 50 ft.
The project will provide deep draft access to the ports at Baton Rouge, New Orleans, South Louisiana, St. Bernard and Plaquemines.
"This is a great day for the people of Louisiana who depend on the Mississippi River for their livelihood," said Edwards. "When completed, this project will allow larger vessels that can currently use the widened Panama Canal to reach Louisiana ports as far north as Baton Rouge. It will also allow for some vessels to carry heavier loads. Nationwide, industries that depend on the Mississippi River to move goods will benefit greatly from this dredging project."
He was joined by Major General Diana Holland, commanding general of the USACE's Mississippi River Valley Division, and Colonel Stephen Murphy, commander, New Orleans District, in a signing ceremony at the New Orleans District Headquarters.
The overall enterprise will provide a draft of 50 ft. stretching over 256 mi. from the Port of Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the material dredged from the first 30 mi. of the project near the mouth of the Mississippi will restore an estimated 1,462 acres of critical marsh habitat.
Phase 1 of the project will provide 50 ft. of channel from the Gulf of Mexico through Southwest Pass to Belmont Crossing and open approximately 175 mi. of the ship channel to the deeper draft, encompassing the entire jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans.
"This monumental agreement would not have been possible without the leadership of Gov. Edwards, the Louisiana Legislature and the entire Louisiana Congressional delegation, who have been steadfast in their support of this critical project," said Brandy D. Christian, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans.
"In addition, the importance of the work of the Big River Coalition, comprised of ports, government agencies and trade associations along the entirety of the river cannot be overstated. 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, shippers, growers and producers who rely on the Mississippi River."
Funding for the approximately $250 million project has been allocated through a variety of sources. As the non-federal sponsor, the Louisiana Department and Transportation Development (LADOTD) has committed $81 million.
"The Mississippi River has always been a critical economic engine for the United States and connects our Nation's heartland to the global economy," said the Holland. "More capacity means greater efficiency in transportation and less costs for our nation's producers. From a benefit cost perspective, that equates to a benefit $7.20 for every dollar spent on operation and maintenance, a significant return on investment."
Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition, described the dredging of the Mississippi River ship channel to 50 ft. as a historic project that will bring the United States' most prolific artery of trade into the modern post Panamax era.
"The deepening will offer significant cost savings to shippers and promote economy of scale efficiencies that will help stimulate trade for decades," he added. "The Coalition applauds the USACE and LADOTD for their professional support and recognizes the unwavering commitment from the navigation industry across the Mississippi River Basin."
"With the signing today, we have taken one step forward toward providing a better future for countless Louisianans," explained LADOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson. "If we work together with our natural resources and put a multimodal commerce plan in place, the Mississippi River can be an economic superhighway and Louisiana can be a leader in global goods movement."