Posted May 27, 2020
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of New Orleans are recommending dredging to 50 feet the access to nearly 2½ miles of the port's Uptown wharves on the Mississippi River, which will allow the port to compete with other Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic ports to load and unload major ocean-going vessels.
Access to the the port's Nashville Avenue, Napoleon Avenue, Milan Street and Louisiana Avenue wharves is now limited to ships with drafts of 35 feet or less.
The project is estimated to cost just over $9 million for the initial dredging, which would be conducted in two phases five years apart, with the Corps picking up 65% of the cost and the port paying the remaining 35%. Dredging to maintain the 50-foot access would cost an estimated $730,000 a year, which would be paid for by the port.
Most of the dredging would be done by the port's existing dredge contractors. There are no plans to capture and reuse the sediment to build wetlands, as is done as part of maintenance dredging projects at locations further downriver. Instead, the material would simply be dumped in the river's main channel adjacent to the docks, which is about 200 feet deep.
The area in front of the wharves would actually be dredged to 54 feet, to allow for sediment to fill in part of the new depth between required re-dredging periods.
In April, the Corps issued a report describing the project and concluding that the dredging would not pose a significant environmental impact to natural resources or to the public. The initial feasibility study says most of the work would be conducted in the first phase of the project, and would not begin until congressional approval, expected no earlier than mid-2022.
The one glitch included in the report is a potential problem with the Napoleon Avenue wharf. The Corps found that the slope of the riverbank beneath that small section of wharf does not meet its stability standards, and will have to be upgraded before the second phase of dredging can begin.
The port will likely be required to remove sediment that has shoaled atop rock riprap beneath the wharf. It will also have to pay to install new bracing of the wharf structure.
The Corps concludes that the dredging project's benefits would add up to about $35.9 million a year, when measured against the annual average of the initial cost of dredging and then annual cost of maintaining the deeper dock access. The benefits include avoiding the cost to shippers of having to use smaller vessels, or having to unload some cargo from ships with drafts too deep to use the present wharves.
The Port of New Orleans ranked No. 4 among U.S. ports in total cargo handled in 2017, with 96.3 million tons, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. In 2018, it ranked sixth, with 93.3 million tons. The Port of South Louisiana, which includes facilities along 54 miles of the river in St. Charles, St. John the Baptist and St. James parishes, ranked first in the nation in 2018, with 275.5 million tons of cargo.
The Corps will make an initial decision on whether to approve the dredging project on Aug. 28, but reviews by other layers of Corps engineering infrastructure will not be completed until late February 2022. If the Corps' chief of engineers then approves the project, his report will be submitted to Congress, which must still authorize and appropriate funding for the project.