Posted on December 3, 2020
An emergency project is now underway to clear a main waterway used by ships traveling between Port Fourchon in southern Lafourche Parish and the Gulf of Mexico oilfield.
Silt pushed north by about half a dozen Gulf storms this hurricane season has made Belle Pass too shallow for some ships to navigate safely, officials said.
Keeping the channel clear is the responsibility of the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Although the corps does have a little over $900,000 in operations and maintenance funding for Belle Pass in its budget, it isn’t near enough to cover the over $3 million cost to bring it back to an acceptable draft, which is 27 feet, up from the 22 feet that it is currently at now,” said Chett Chiasson the port’s executive director.
So the Greater Lafourche Port Commission put up $2.1 million so the work could be completed quickly, Chiasson said.
The work, being performed by Golden Meadow-based Crosby Dredging under the corps’ direction, started last week and is expected to be complete by Jan. 6, he said. However, the west side of the channel is expected to be at full depth within the next two weeks to allow larger ships to pass.
“This siltation, which is a process where sediment can collect on the bottom of a waterway, was exacerbated due to the amount of storm activity we experienced this hurricane season,” Chiasson said. “Our tenants and users need a deeper draft to better perform their daily activities, so performing this work now was completely necessary.”
Hurricanes affecting the port the most were Cristobal in June and Zeta in October. Operations at the port, a service hub for almost all of the Gulf’s oil rigs and platforms, shut down for 15-20 days during hurricane season, which started June 1 and ends today.
The Port Commission and Harbor Police are working with the corps and Crosby Dredging to ensure the work causes as little interruption to boat traffic as possible.
For the work’s duration, the area will be designated as a safety zone within 500 feet of the dredge. Mariners must travel at their lowest safe speed to minimize wakes and ensure operational safety. Harbor Police Marine Patrol will coordinate boats’ movement through the safety zone when necessary.
“It’s a process,” Chiasson said of working with the corps. “While we work with them routinely to get jobs done, this is one where we weren’t in a position to follow a schedule that would cause us to wait for an extended period of time.”
— Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.