Morgan City Port Terminal District officials hope to position the city as a lucrative import and export market for small vessels by creating a dredge system that agitates mud and keeps it from sticking to the Lower Atchafalaya River bar channel floor. “Traditional maintenance dredging has failed to provide a reliable channel,” Port Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said in a dredging presentation. “It has negatively impacted and limited our ability to attract new customers.” The current cutter head dredges used are not effective for long term luff management. In order to be cost effective, Wade believes removing small accumulations of fluff through agitation is the answer for managing it. Fluff is a term used to describe the bar channel’s muddy floor. There is an accumulation of 8-10 feet of mud underneath 14 feet of usable water, Wade said. The port is authorized to dredge at 20 feet. “We’ve done engineering studies on this, and agitation is the only way to keep this stuff suspended,” Wade said. Wade uses a Nestlé’s Quik mix and milk analogy to explain how fluff settles in the river and the effects of a new dredging system. “You just throw that Nestlé’s Quik in there and if you don’t do anything it’s going to fall right to the bottom and you can see the layer there,” Wade said. “You stir it up, then that chocolate is all the way consistent and that’s the new approach.” The port developed a demonstration dredging project for 2016 to manage the fluff issues in the bar channel. If the demo project proves to be successful, the long term solution is to construct a dredge specifically for fluff. The request for qualifications begins Jan. 14 for bids on the project to the dredging industry. “We hope to have the dredge down there by late March or April, where we can start the test,” Wade said.
The proposed timeline for the project is set for 90-120 days. It will operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day “going up and down stirring the fluff.” “We’re not going to pump it off and try to make islands with it because it’s too fluid,” Wade said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with the port to implement the dredging program, Wade said. The Corps is helping the port secure permits and modifications needed for certifications. Once the test proves to be a success, the port will ask the dredging industry to build special equipment that will only be used on the Atchafalaya River. “Nothing is made right now to do what we want it to do,” Wade said. “We think we can operate the machine for about one-fifth to one-sixth of the cost of a cutter head,” Wade said. “At that I could use it 365 days of the year instead of 75-90 days of the year. It will move fluid mud very well.” A cutter head costs about $120,000 a day, Wade said. The current cutter head’s “work exceptionally well with the river,” which has sandy bottoms. The only way to get rid of the fluff is to cut off the Atchafalaya River. “We don’t want to do that,” Wade said. “If the river stops flowing then you don’t have a problem. Of course we wouldn’t ave any business up in here. “But by doing this, it’s going to help us tremendously with import and export plus it’s going to help all our dry docks and fabricators. It would be tremendous or our area, for our market, when we get this machine.” The addition of a flourishing import and export industry would positively affect he parish’s economy. “We want to do everything we can to support the oil field industry but at the same time we’ve taken in 20 ships this year. We want to be able to take more ships in. “We’re turning business away right now because a ship needs to come in at 16 or 17 feet. I’ve got 15. It doesn’t work. If that mud was stirred up, a ship could come in at 18 or 19 feet.” Wade feels very confident about the outcome of the dredging project. The goal ultimately is to help stimulate the import and export business without getting stuck. As for the fluff, “you’ll never get rid of it,” Wade said. “You’ve got to learn to manage it. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Published by Daily Review 01/08/16