Channel depth issue raised -- Public meeting: dredging, flood protection are top issues for area
MORGAN CITY, La. — Keeping the Atchafalaya Bar Channel at its authorized 20-foot depth and providing flood protection for the region with the Bayou Chene flood protection structure are major projects local entities are working on, officials said Friday at a public meeting as part of the annual Mississippi River Commission Low-water Inspection Trip.
The Mississippi River Commission Low Water Inspection trip took place from Aug. 12 to 23 with public meetings along the way before holding the final meeting in Morgan City aboard the Motor Vessel Mississippi at the Port of Morgan City dock.
The public meeting in Morgan City at the Port of Morgan City gave local officials and residents the chance to present their concerns and ideas relating to topics such as navigation of the waterways and flood control.
The Mississippi River Commission is composed of seven members appointed by the president of the United States from the Corps of Engineers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration along with civilian members. Duties for the commission include studying flood control and navigation issues, making recommendations and making semi-annual inspection trips, according to a news release.
Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Vice President Greg Aucoin said the Atchafalaya River Delta, which includes the Wax Lake Delta, is building up while neighboring areas are losing land.
“Unfortunately, the sediment that is building our delta is actually causing a navigation problem for us on the river,” Aucoin said.
A representative from Bollinger Shipyards also expressed his concerns at the meeting. Lynn Falgout of Bollinger Shipyards in Amelia, which has three shipyards in Amelia, said they depend on the port and corps to keep proper water depths and also for flood control.
Falgout hired a boat to go out and found water depths of 14 to 15 feet in the Atchafalaya Bar Channel, he said.
Falgout signs contracts years in advance to have vessel navigate through the channel so he counts on having the authorized 20-foot depth at any given time, he said.
“I really appreciate your testimony because you bring to life the impact, and that is hugely important for us to understand,” Maj. Gen. John Peabody, president of the Mississippi River Commission said to Falgout. “This is exactly why I want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to look into the sidecasting alternative and others to ensure that we are using all the resources that we have available to try to maintain to its authorized dimensions,” Peabody said.
The solution is to keep the sediment in suspension, Aucoin said. The port and corps are hoping to complete the final phase of testing to keep the sediment in suspension, which involves sidecasting, by 2014, Aucoin said. Sidecasting entails agitating the “fluff,” or pudding-like sediment mixture, through suction and casting it out to the side of the channel, Aucoin said.
The corps had been using cutter-head dredging which is much more costly, he said.
The St. Mary Parish Levee District requested support from the Mississippi River Commission for its Bayou Chene Flood Protection project to provide for backwater flood protection.
St. Mary Parish Levee District Executive Director Tim Matte said the 2011 Flood proved the need for backwater flood protection for the region, which affected St. Mary, Terrebonne, lower St. Martin and Assumption parishes. The Avoca Island levee extension project was intended to offer that project, Matte said. “The withdrawal of that project has never been followed with a backup plan,” Matte said.
The permanent Bayou Chene flood protection structure will probably be the best way to provide protection for the area, Matte said. The Bayou Chene flood protection project, which is located just south of the McDermott yard in Amelia, will block off Bayou Chene so that flood waters cannot come up Bayou Chene through Boeuf to Lake Palourde, Matte said in June.
The 2011 Flood justifies its inclusion as a component of the Mississippi River and Tributaries project, and needs the commission’s support for its inclusion and would like to see funding to complete the project, Matte said.
The levee district is currently doing engineering work for the project, Matte said. The St. Mary Parish Levee District is partnering with the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, which is going to help fund the project, Matte said.
Matte also asked for the commission’s approval of a 250-foot opening instead of the authorized 400-foot opening for the Bayou Chene flood protection structure, he said.
For the area’s water depth issues, Morgan City Mayor Pro-tem Louis Tamporello said if vessels go through one or two spots with inadequate depth at 14 feet or so that is all it takes to keep a vessel from going through the channel.
The Atchafalaya Bar Channel is mandated for 20 feet, but that depth is not there, Falgout said. The last five jobs that left the Amelia yard are not coming back for repeat business because of the lack of adequate water depths for vessels to travel through the port, Falgout said. “They’re going to deeper ports,” Falgout said.
Mike Lowe of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said the sidecasting method has not been demonstrated yet, but the corps is currently working to determine if it will be a suitable alternative, he said. Lowe hopes to be able to make that determination by 2014, he said.
Peabody said of the sidecasting study, “We need to get this done. There’s too much potential here not to do the research to make sure we can understand how beneficial this might be.”
“We need to make sure that everybody realizes the issues of the corps and the port here on trying to keep water in the area. The last five jobs that have come out of the new construction shipyard from Bollinger, we had lots of trouble getting vessels out of port,” Falgout said.
Matte said the effort to include backwater flood protection in the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project has been ongoing for many years. The levee district is ready to work with the corps in addressing the levee deficiencies that have been identified, Matte said.
Matte said the levee district wants to make sure it gets financial credit for expenditures relating to fixing levee deficiencies to go toward future levee projects.
Another project the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District commission is looking closely at is the shifting of the current in Berwick Bay, Aucoin said. Millions of dollars are spent each year on dredging in this area where the Berwick side of the bay is scouring while the Morgan City side builds up rapidly even after a dredging cycle, Aucoin said.
Four years ago, the corps did a study that examined shifting the current in the harbor to the Morgan City side in which “diversions” would be put under water sending the current to the east resulting in a “self-scouring current and hopefully reducing dredging costs,” Aucoin said.