Coast Guard Capt. Blake Welborn, commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Houma, says farewell to Port of Morgan City officials during Monday’s port meeting. Welborn will depart as commanding officer June 27 at a change of command ceremony. To the left of Welborn is Cmdr. Heather Mattern, commanding officer of MSU Morgan City. The Morgan City unit is a sub-unit of the Houma unit. (The Daily Review/Zachary Fitzgerald)

More funds expected for dredging

Relief may soon be on the way to dredge the Morgan City area’s waterways that are full of sediment and almost certain to get worse as the high water recedes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is severely short on funding to dredging the Berwick Bay harbor and nearby areas, said Tim Connell, Atchafalaya region manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during Monday’s Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission meeting.

But the good news is that President Donald Trump has signed off on a flood disaster relief bill that means more dredging funds are coming.

Port of Morgan City officials just don’t know yet how much the area will get, but hope to have a better idea within two months. Once the Atchafalaya River stage drops, there will be significant shoaling as more sediment deposits in the waterways.

Coast Guard officials in the area have been preparing for the potential opening of the Morganza Spillway, which the Corps has delayed indefinitely. But even if authorities decide not to open Morganza, those preparations are important to have done for hurricane season, especially with the high water, said Cmdr. Heather Mattern, commanding officer of Marine Safety Unit Morgan City.

If the region gets any significant rainfall during the next few weeks, the threshold could be met to open Morganza, Port Economic Development Manager Cindy Cutrera said. The Atchafalaya is projected to crest at Morgan City June 21 at 8.5 feet, much lower than the originally anticipated 10 feet.

Mattern asked the public to notify the Coast Guard of any shoaling issues.

The Corps plans to open bids June 25 on a just under $1 million project that will dredge the Stouts Pass area near Morgan City. However, much more funds are needed to dredge the other problem spots in the river, which is why the supplemental funding package is so critical, Connell said.

Unfortunately, that sediment will be pumped right back into the river. Corps officials are still trying to work with the port to allow for the beneficial use of dredge material in future dredging projects.

Officials had to take money away from the project to dredge Bayou Chene, unrelated to the flood protection project, to address issues in the Atchafalaya River at Crewboat Cut along with the bay and upper bar channel, Connell said. The award of the Bayou Chene dredging contract has been delayed until August or September.

Brice Civil Constructors is still getting ready to dredge the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel with the goal of reducing the density of the fluid mud that impedes vessel traffic. Brice should begin dredging there at the end of June.

Capt. Blake Welborn, commanding officer of MSU Houma, attended Monday’s meeting to say farewell to port officials as he prepares for his change of command ceremony June 27. MSU Morgan City is a sub-unit of the Houma unit.

Welborn had previously served as commanding officer of the Morgan City unit before Mattern took over in June 2017. Wade Russell, who’s coming from Virginia, will relieve Welborn as he departs for a position in New Orleans.

Welborn thanked port leaders and the community for all their support, particularly during the government shutdown, over the roughly seven years he’s been in the area.

In other business, the port commission

—Authorized engaging Darnall, Sikes and Frederick to perform the port’s annual audit at a cost up to $18,000 and $5,000 for the statewide agreed upon procedures.

—Approved $16,000 for work on the Vessel Traffic Service system to be reimbursed by the Coast Guard.

—Approved substantial completion of a railroad track repair and maintenance project and a payment of $44,537.

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