The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) officially kicked off the historic deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet on September 11, as Weeks Marine’s cutterhead dredge Captain Frank started dredging 5 miles above the Head of Passes.
The overall project will provide a draft of 50-feet from the Port of Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico—over 256 miles of the Mississippi River. In addition, the material dredged from the first 30 miles of the project near the mouth of the Mississippi River will restore an estimated 1,462 acres of critical marsh habitat.
Phase 1 of the project will provide a 50-foot channel from the Gulf of Mexico through Southwest Pass to Belmont Crossing and open up approximately 175 miles of the ship channel to the deeper draft. Phase 1 encompasses the entire jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans, St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District and the majority of the Port of South Louisiana.
The USACE awarded the first contract for the Ship Channel deepening to Weeks Marine on September 3, 2020, and the Captain Frank started the historic deepening. The USACE awarded the second cutterhead dredge contract to Manson Construction on September 8. Manson’s cutterhead, the Robert M. White, is expected to begin deepening in late September.
Three dredges—two cutterheads and one hopper dredge—will be utilized to deepen the channel in the first phase of the project.
“This project represents an incredible partnership between the federal government, Congress, industry, and the State of Louisiana,” said Col. Stephen Murphy, Commander of the USACE New Orleans District. “By deepening the Mississippi River Ship Channel even by just 5 feet (to 50 feet) the national economy will see benefits to the tune of approximately $127 million annually. With a benefit-to-cost ratio of 7.2-to-1, the project will pay for itself in two years. This is a really great deal for Louisiana and America.”
“The Big River Coalition revitalized efforts to deepen the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 Feet in August 2012,” said Sean Duffy, Executive Director of the coalition. “The project will promote the economic advantages of waterborne commerce to shippers by extending the draw area for shipping down this economic superhighway. The deepened channel will offer increased cost savings to shippers and help the U.S. compete in world markets, enhance the system’s water carrying capacity and increase the flood protection of businesses, farms and homes. A deeper channel will create thousands of jobs and restore 1,500 acres of wetlands in the environmentally sensitive birds’ foot delta.”
“Our members are excited about the start of the 50-foot deepening, as it will help our port partners become more competitive on a national and international basis as well as contribute to coastal restoration though beneficial use of dredged material,” said Captain Michael Miller, president of the Associated Branch Pilots (Bar Pilots) and Chairman of the Big River Coalition.
“The kickoff of this historic project is exciting for the entire maritime community,” said Brandy Christian, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans. “It is the culmination of decades of hard work by all stakeholders involved from the Big River Coalition to Congress and the critical support of the state and the U.S. Army Corps. The deepening project will harness the economic power of the river and the most competitive global gateway in the Gulf of Mexico.”
“The deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet is a momentous water infrastructure project that will promote increased trade throughout the nation’s interior, noted the Executive Director of the Port of Plaquemines, Sandy Sanders. “The Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District along with our partners from Plaquemines Parish to the state of Illinois are thrilled to see the deepening project commence.”
“Our nation’s inland waterway system—including the Mississippi River Ship Channel—provides an efficient connection between farmers in the Midwest and customers around the world,” commented the Executive Director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, Mike Steenhoek, a longtime partner of the coalition. “As a result, any effort to improve the channel must not only be regarded as a Louisiana priority, but also a priority for the Midwestern states that feed into it.”