Another $9 million should be available for the Port of Morgan City to use this year to dredge the Atchafalaya River, bringing the port’s total dredging funds to more than $40 million over the next two years. This funding should help bring import-export ships back to the Port of Morgan City. An import-export ship hasn’t visited the port since 2015 due to the lack of water depth. But a consultant says port leaders must fulfill their promise to do what’s necessary to bring waterway commerce back to the area.
If not, they could see those funds drop sharply back to the level of the past several years when they struggled to keep the river open to vessel traffic. The Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission met Monday. Within the past four months, port leaders have learned that the port should have about $41.7 million to spend on dredging the Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel during the next couple of years. Officials said the funding should help keep the river and bar channel dredged to the congressionally authorized 20-foot depth. Fluid mud, known as fluff, accumulates in the bar channel and sand builds up in the river, making navigation difficult or impossible for some vessels. The additional $9 million in dredging funds are “discretionary work plan money” that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers receives through congressional appropriations committees, said Charles Brittingham, the port’s governmental affairs consultant with Cassidy and Associates. Thus, dredging funds for the Port of Morgan City in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2018 fiscal year budget are expected to go from the originally approved $6.6 million to $15.6 million with the additional discretionary spending.That fiscal year ends Sept. 30. But these funds may be spent until they’re exhausted and don’t have an expiration date, Brittingham said. The Port of Morgan City got $14 million in dredging funds in 2004 followed by $15 million in 2005. Funds started dropping steadily each year after reaching about $6.4 million. “Today this project is sitting flush,” Brittingham said. However, port leaders must seize this opportunity to bring more busi ness to the area, or the funds may fall off in 2021, Brittingham said. One of the arguments that Brittingham and political officials used to help secure funding is that the federal government should give the Port of Morgan City a chance to get it “back up and running,” he said. “If there is no master plan, if there is no land acquisition process, if the old customers aren’t contacted and the new customers aren’t found, in a few fiscal years, it’s probably going to be back at square one,” Brittingham said. Port Commissioner Joe Cain thanked Brittingham for his efforts representing the port in Washington, D.C., to fight to get more dredging money after the port had tried for years to get additional funds with little success. “In my mind, you’re the difference,” Cain said of Brittingham. Officials learned at the start of May that the port will receive $20 million in supplemental dredging funds through the Corps of Engineers to dredge the Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel as a result of Hurricane Harvey relief funds. Another $8.1 million should fund dredging of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, most of which will be used in the Morgan City area. The supplemental funds have to be spent within a two-year period, Brittingham said. In February, the port received news that it would get $12.7 million in dredging funds for the 2019 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2018. Brice Civil Constructors, which is planning to use an agitation dredge to suspend the fluff in the Bar Channel, is scheduled to have a proposal for the project to the Corps of Engineers on July 3. Officials hope to be able to dredge the channel starting in November or December and have the channel fully dredged by 2019’s first quarter, said Tim Connell, the Corps’ Atchafalaya region manager. “We have plenty of money to do what we need to do in the near future,” Connell said. Also at the meeting, officials discussed the dredging of Berwick Bay, which could begin as soon as about 45 days to address some shoaling in that area, Connell said. Officials will also dredge near the Bayou Boeuf lock to help facilitate the re-opening of that lock which has been shut down, he said. In other business, the commission
—Approved applying for a $12 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant that would require a $3 million match from the port. Port officials would use the funds to improve the port’s dock.
—Approved a resolution in support of the new rules for the state Industrial Tax Exemption Program with a local option to go through the approval process at the parish level and then submit the necessary documents to the state.
—Approved a maintenance contract of $2,152 per month relating to the port’s Tactical Command and Control System licenses.
Published by Daily Review 06/12/18