Posted on January 5, 2021
No one would be surprised to see gulls swooping low toward Berwick Bay, or gliding above the water with their illusion of hanging in mid-air.
But just standing there?
That’s Berwick Bay this winter, when sandy sediment has created streaky islands jutting from the water. Gulls line up on the narrow strips of dry land like kids outside a school cafeteria.
“That’s sediment,” said Port of Morgan City Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade. “And that’s low water.”
And, while sediment is usually the enemy with which the port does battle, for now it’s not so bad in the bay, Wade said.
Sediment has been visible above water off and on since the high-water event of 2019, when the Atchafalaya and associated waterways ran high from Mardi Gras into the summer.
Not long after the water receded, a sandbar big enough to attract the occasional boater intent on taking a selfie emerged off the Morgan City Wharf. Earlier this year, someone stuck a Trump yard sign on another little island in the bay.
High water hasn’t been as big a problem this year. The Atchafalaya generally behaved, staying lower than the storm surge predictions during an active hurricane season.
On Monday, the river was at 2.66 feet, more than 3 feet below the level that causes minor flooding between the Morgan City and Berwick flood gates. The prediction for the rest of the year is for nothing higher than 2.7 feet.
While the low water and sediment could have been a problem for navigation this year, a big gun was deployed in the battle to keep the bay clear for shipping.
The dredge vessel Ingenuity, owned by Inland Dredging of Dyersburg, Tennessee, made a hurricane-delayed journey to the region.
Once it arrived and went to work, the Ingenuity was able to dredge 15,000 cubic yards a day and clear an area extending out 250 feet from Washburn Marine to the railroad bridge on the Morgan City side, Wade said. The dredging helped Conrad Shipyard deliver one of two 297-foot asphalt barges in November from its Front Street facility in Morgan City. The other barge was built at Conrad’s Amelia yard.
Farther to the west, Wade said, another stretch 150 feet wide was cleared.
The spits of sand above the water are between the two cleared zones.
More work awaits in areas to the south.
Sediment build-up is a problem at Crewboat Cut about eight miles south of Morgan City, Wade said. A $13.6 million dredging project by Great Lakes Dredging and Dock Co. is set to begin in late January or early February.
Still farther south, in the bar channel from Eugene Island to the sea buoy, the Brice Civil Constructors experimental barge is at work.
The Brice dredge is designed to deal with the sticky fluff mud that can gum up a ship channel. Beset by mechanical problems in its early days, the Brice dredge is now doing well, Wade said.
The bar channel’s authorized dimensions are 20 feet deep by 400 feet wide. It’s currently at 15 to 17 feet deep by 150 feet wide.