From The Editor: Port Has A Tough Month, But Some Wins, Too

Posted on September 16, 2021

The August meeting of the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission was one for the books. Commissioners heard that four dredges would be working in area waters at the same time, from Berwick Bay to the sea buoy.

Monday’s September meeting had some twists and turns, many but not all courtesy of Hurricane Ida. In the end, the overall feeling was relief.

“We dodged a bullet, guys,” said Tim Connell, civil engineer and project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, who took in the meeting by conference call.

But it’s too early to say that the port escaped damage altogether.

Port Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade warned immediately after Ida that sediment below the surface may have encroached on channels being cleared by the dredging. Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that hit the Texas coast in 2017, created tidal shifts that reduced the depth in some areas of the channel by 5 feet, Wade said
So, after Ida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin-istration sent a survey boat. That hasn’t worked out yet.
The boat first went to the wrong location, Wade said. And as it moved to the right survey area, it broke down.
Another survey boat was dispatched, only to run out of fuel. A third vessel sent to bring fuel to the survey boat broke down.

Those weren’t the only mechanical problems experienced by the port in the last month.

The four dredges set to begin or continue work in the last month are the Brice Civil Constructors’ Arulaq, designed especially for the channel between Eugene Island and the sea buoy; a Manson Constructors dredge that was to work the same portion of the channel; a Great Lakes Dredge & Dock dredge tasked with work closer to the port near Crewboat Cut; and a Weeks Marine dredge to work elsewhere in the Atchafalaya.

The Arulaq continues to perform its function of agitating and removing sticky “fluff” mud from the Eugene Island-sea buoy leg. And the Corps’ $7 million contract was altered to exercise an option to bring the Manson dredge Newport to the bar channel.

The Great Lakes dredge Alaska went to work Aug. 20 and paused for Ida. But before it could resume work, a problem was discovered: The dredge’s Coast Guard certificate of inspection expired.

The expiration isn’t just a matter of paperwork.

“Apparently, there are some substantial deficiencies to be ironed out …,” Connell told the commissioners. “We really need to get going down there.”

The Weeks Marine barge was set to begin work the middle of this month. But it was called away during Ida for emergency work on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. That’s expected to cause a two- to three-week delay, Connell said.

But the last month brought some triumphs, too.

Consultant Mike Knobloch told the commissioners Monday that a joint state legislative committee approved the port’s application for a grant to finance the western portion of the planned dock expansion.

The $15 million grant will come in three $5 million installments, the first in about 2½ years.

The expansion and the push to dredge the channel to its authorized dimensions of 20 feet deep and 400 feet wide are designed to help the port handle large vessels. The port has been largely off limits for those vessels since 2015 because of silting resulting from floods.

The Emergency Operations Center also performed the way it was designed to perform, commissioners heard. The EOC, which opened just in time for newly sworn Gov. John Bel Edwards’ trip to Morgan City during the 2016 flood, provided a base of operations for Coast Guard members from around the country, as well as NOAA and Homeland Security.

The EOC has cots for 20 people, a kitchen and showers, all used by members of the military and officials who needed a base close to the most heavily damaged areas but also a secure headquarters with reliable power and communication.

Bill Decker is managing editor of The Daily Review.

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