Mississippi River Ship Channel Deepening for LARGE SHIPS

Source: Big River Coalition via USACE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with the State of Louisiana will meet in a ceremony at the New Orleans District Headquarters on Friday, July 31, 2020 at 10 a.m. to acknowledge all necessary partnering documents are in place to initiate construction efforts to deepen the existing Mississippi River Ship Channel from the Gulf of Mexico to Baton Rouge from a depth of 45 to 50 feet.  Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, Maj. Gen. Diana Holland, Commanding General, Mississippi Valley Division, and COL Stephen Murphy, Commander, New Orleans District will participate during the ceremony. 

A brief description of the project: This project provides deep draft navigation along the lower portion of the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico to the city of Baton Rouge. Specifically, it allows for deep draft access to the Louisiana ports of Plaquemines, New Orleans, South Louisiana, and Baton Rouge. Construction of the channel was planned in three phases. Among other things, the first phase deepened the channel to 45 feet from the Gulf of Mexico to Donaldsonville, LA, and the second phase deepened the channel to 45 feet from Donaldsonville, LA to Baton Rouge, LA.  Signing of the subject agreement will enable the USACE and the State of LA to enter the third phase of construction which is to deepen the entire channel from the Gulf to Baton Rouge to 50 feet.

The Project Partnership Agreement (PPA) is a critical step that establishes a legally binding agreement between the Government (USACE) and a non-federal sponsor (LDOTD) for construction of a water resources project (Mississippi River Ship Channel Deepening).  The PPA will detail an official description of the project and list the responsibilities of the USACE and the LDOTD and document the cost-sharing responsibilities and the schedule of work.  

The Big River Coalition revitalized efforts to deepen the Mississippi River Ship Channel on August 25, 2012 after discussions with the USACE’s leadership and that of LDOTD.   During these discussions the Coalition plotted the course to deepening by listing the three steps below:  

  1. The channel threshold for full federal funding had to be increased from 45 feet to 50 feet. This was accomplished in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014). COMPLETED
  2. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development must fund and complete a General Reevaluation Report to update the economic impact of deepening the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet.  This step was completed when the USACE released the signed Director’s Report on August 3, 2018. COMPLETED
  3. Fund and deepen the Mississippi River Ship Channel, the funding for the First Phase has now been appropriated at $85,350,000.  The First Phase will deepen the first 33 miles of the Mississippi River Ship Channel from approximately Venice to the end of Southwest Pass.  Once that reach of the Ship Channel is deepened, the channel will be opened with the increased new maximum draft up to approximately Mile 150 Above Head of Passes.  By deepening the first 33 miles of the Ship Channel approximately 175 miles will be opened to 50 feet, because the river channel is naturally deep from Venice to Belmont Crossing (Mile 154 Above Head of Passes) and Southwest Pass is 22 miles long.  NEARLY COMPLETED

Once the PPA is signed, the LDOTD will have to place the USACE in funds so that the initial cost share is met and dredging contracts can be awarded. The USACE intends to begin dredging either later this year or in early 2021.  

Two matters of lagniappe (“a little something extra”) not included above but that are vital to the success of the deepening project are:

  1. In the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA 2016) the cost share for deepening projects was adjusted from an equal cost share (50%-50%) to the present 75% for federal (USACE) and 25% for non-federal (LDOTD).  
  2. The U.S. Soybean Board announced earlier this year that it allocated $2 million to help offset the planning, design, and research costs of deepening the lower Mississippi River from 45 feet to 50 feet.

Each of the steps listed above were achieved through great partnerships that took considerable time and commitment to achieve. 

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