Posted on November 9, 2022
The WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter Conference (11/7-9) kicked off this week in New Orleans with the Icebreaker Networking event Monday evening and was well attended. Tuesday morning Welcome Remarks were done by LTC David Cox, Deputy Commander of USACE New Orleans district. The New Orleans district serves five of the fifteen busiest ports just along the Mississippi. He spoke about the importance of the Mississippi river to the commerce of the USA and the critical role dredge contractors play in maintaining the waterways and providing renourishment. Approximately 1900 acres of new wetlands, bird islands and beach renourishment are created each year through dredging. LTC Cox highlighted how the dredging industry provided a solution to the saltwater intrusion challenge by building a levee under the Mississippi river which stopped the salt intrusion from moving up the river.
Dr. Norma Jean Mattei-Chair Mississippi River Commission
The keynote speaker was Dr. Norma Jean Mattei the Chair of the Mississippi River Commission and University of New Orleans Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. Dr. Mattei spoke about the evolution of flood control and navigation on the Mississippi. The Mississippi is the major watershed of the US and connects by water many major city centers and sits on top of one of the most productive areas in the world as far as farm production. According to 2021 U.S Dept. of Commerce the U.S. exports over $177 billion of agricultural products to the rest of the world, much of which ships along the Mississippi River to gulf ports to be loaded for exports. Dredging plays a key role in supporting the commerce on the river through dredging maintenance of the depths and widths of key ports and waterways. Due to the increase in size and draft of the new container vessels there continues to be the need to dredge U.S. ports to 50’ or deeper. The port of New Orleans has been authorized to dredge to 50’all the way to Baton Rouge, but they will dredge a couple of more feet, because they lose depth so quickly.
Dr. Mattei shared with WEDA the report from the American Society of Civil Engineers on America’s Infrastructure in 2021.Unfortunately, America’s Inland Waterways only received a D+. The U.S. faces several challenges that need to be addressed in order to maintain our commerce activity in the future. The country’s lock system are quite old and beyond design life, which increases the risk of outage. The locks operate on a system 600’ x 110’, which limits the barge tows to 8 barges w/ towboat and today most tows are 12 or greater. This causes delays at the locks.Unfortunately, the inland ports do not make the cut for dredging via the Harbor Maintenance Tax Fund (HMTF) so funding has to be found elsewhere.
Dr.Mattei, concluded that while many of the projects are expensive this is a generational investment in our waterways that will help us prepare for the future.
Other topics presented at the WEDA conference included the overview and status of active projects at the Port of Houston’s ship channel expansion Project 11. The Mobile USACE District provided an update on the Mobile Districts future dredging plans. Technical sessions covered management and monitoring of select regional dredging projects and use of geographic information systems to improve waterway operations.
An evening reception on the riverboat cruising the Mississippi river capped off the event.