Louisiana Dredging Outlook

Photo: Magnolia Dredge

By Susan Buchanan

Louisiana relies on dredging for navigation and land
restoration

When maritime stakeholders think about dredging, they typically
first conjure up visions of harbor deepening projects to
accommodate those giant, post-Panamax boxships. Conversely,
inland players hope for maintenance dredging in the heartland to
keep the nation's 31,000 cargo barges afloat as they head for the
coast. But, there is much more to it than that.

In Louisiana, dredging, of course, keeps Louisiana's waterways
open for navigation, provides material for coastal restoration
and helps industrial plants with drainage. The biggest projects
are sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in New
Orleans and the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration
Authority (CPRA). The state's newest and largest restoration
projects will span several decades and could cost $1 billion or
more each. In this case, they are badly needed as the shoreline
shrinks.

In the last 50 years, Louisiana lost about 34 square miles of
marsh and other land annually to the sea. The state has
relinquished 2,000 square miles since 1932. Louisiana's dredging
industry welcomes, albeit with some reservations, the Water
Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, or WIIN, approved
by Congress in December, along with a U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers' plan, announced in December, to deepen waterways.

WIIN, (Win?)

WIIN, signed into law by President Obama on December 16,
facilitates harbor and channel deepening, and expands the
fed-state, cost-sharing for navigation-construction projects from
45 to 50 feet deep. That means waterways will be able to
accommodate larger vessels. WIIN allows the Army Corps to make
improvements to ports, waterways, dams and flood protection. It
authorizes 30 new infrastructure projects across the nation.
Congress will still have to appropriate funding for most of these
projects, however. WIIN also establishes a pilot program for
activities that use dredged material. It calls for Harbor
Maintenance Tax funding targets to grow by 3 percent annually
over each previous year, with a goal of providing all collected
HMT revenues for use by the nation's ports and harbors by fiscal
2025.

Sean Duffy, executive director of the Big River Coalition in
Metairie, La., said WIIN's navigation and construction provisions
will increase opportunities for Louisiana's dredging industry.
The Coalition's 100 maritime members rely on the Mississippi
River. Separately, a plan released by the Army Corps in December
would deepen portions of the Mississippi River navigation
channel, including stretches between New Orleans and Baton Rouge,
to 50 feet. The channel measures 45 to 47 feet deep now. More
dredging would allow Mississippi River ports like New Orleans,
Plaquemines and South Louisiana to handle large post-panamax
vessels traveling through the expanded Panama Canal.

Coastal Master Plan Projects

Released in January, Louisiana's $50 billion, 50-year 2017 draft
Coastal Master Plan includes large-scale marsh creation projects
that depend on dredging. The plan is an update of earlier
versions in 2012 and 2007.

"These marsh creation projects will be implemented over several
decades and in multiple phases," Rudy Simoneaux, manager of
CPRA's engineering division, said last month. The projects
include $1.8 billion for Belle Pass to Golden Meadow Marsh
Creation on 24,800 acres; $680 million for Large Scale Barataria
Marsh Creation on over 12,400 acres; and $1 billion for New
Orleans East Landbridge Restoration on 21,400 acres.

CPRA has awarded all of its recent dredging work on a low-bid
basis, consistent with the state's bid laws. "To date,
Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge & Dock and New
Jersey-headquartered Weeks Marine have received the most dredging
contracts let by CPRA," Simoneaux said. Mississippi River
sediment diversions in the master plan are crucial to building
and maintaining land, along with protecting levee investments.
The agency wants to see sediment diversions constructed as soon
as possible.

The state hopes to build the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion at
mile marker 60.7 on the west side of the Mississippi River, near
Myrtle Grove in Plaquemines Parish. The diversion would restore
Barataria Basin habitat, including fresh, intermediate and
brackish marshes, by re-introducing sediment and nutrients that
maintained the area in the past. The project would include
dredging of sediment mined from the Mississippi River. "As
coastal conditions decline, the state must expand ways to
leverage the sediment and land-building power of the river on an
even greater scale in future master plans," CPRA said in January.

Regarding the new WIIN legislation, "CPRA views its passage as a
very positive thing for ports, the Army Corps and other entities
involved in navigation dredging," Simoneaux said. "But how
ecosystem restoration fits or applies under this legislation
hasn't been determined yet."

As for the Army Corps' plan to deepen parts of the lower
Mississippi River channel, including stretches between New
Orleans and Baton Rouge, "CPRA is always in favor of innovative
dredging opportunities," Simoneaux said. "But given the location
of the reaches included in this deepening proposal, along with
the locations of dredging projects in our 2017 master plan, it
may not be cost-feasible to use dredged material from this
deepening for ecosystem restoration." CPRA will continue to
examine the possible use of that dredged material.

Army Corps sees that channels are dredged

Keeping the lower Mississippi open for navigation is the Corps'
biggest dredging cost in south Louisiana. Over the last five
years, dredging from Mile 10 AHP (above Head of Passes) to 22 BHP
(below Head of Passes) cost an average $56 million, Army Corps
spokesman Rene Poche in New Orleans said last month. "That
includes Southwest Pass, which runs from Mile 0 to 22 BHP. A
combination of cutterhead dredges and hopper dredges is used
there."

Annually, an average 64 percent of the material dredged from Mile
10 AHP to 22 BHP is used beneficially, Poche said. This includes
marsh creation, wetlands nourishment, and restoring ridges and
barrier islands. The Corps tries to use dredged material
beneficially whenever it's cost-effective and meets federal laws,
and utilizes it along the banks of South and Southwest Pass, in
the Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the Atchafalaya Delta
Wildlife Management Area and in the Sabine National Wildlife
Refuge.

Besides the Mississippi River, the Corps' other big dredging
projects are along the Calcasieu River and Pass in southwest
Louisiana, and the Atchafalaya Basin in the south central part of
the state. "The Calcasieu Project allows deep-draft, 40-foot
access to the Port of Lake Charles and terminals along the
Calcasieu River," Poche said. Dredging is done at a number of
spots in the Atchafalaya Basin to maintain 12-foot channels for
commercial navigation, he said. These include "Three Rivers,"
where the Red, Atchafalaya and Old Rivers meet in east-central
Louisiana; the Old River Lock Forebay, northwest of Baton Rouge;
below Bayou Sorrel lock to the south of Baton Rouge in Iberville
Parish; and Berwick Bay Harbor on the Lower Atchafalaya River
near Morgan City.

The Corps' Calcasieu dredging typically costs between $12 million
and $20 million a year, while the Atchafalaya Basin dredge work
runs from $3 million to $4 million yearly. As for the WIIN
legislation, "it had nothing to do with why we're pursuing
deepening of the river, nor with the depth being proposed," Poche
said. "Our effort was initiated more than two-and-a-half years
ago, whereas WIIN was signed weeks ago," he said in January.

GLDD: Keeping busy with NOAA, CPRA Contracts

At one of the big dredging companies, "we're working on two
large, coastal restoration projects in Louisiana now - one for
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called
Cheneire Ronquille, and the other for CPRA called Whiskey
Island," said Bill Hanson, vice president at Great Lakes Dredge
& Dock. "We've been active in Louisiana since the current
generation of coastal projects, including Pelican Island, Bayou
Dupont, Scofield Island, Shell East and Shell West. These unique
projects showcase the abilities of the nation's coastal
engineering community and will serve Louisiana and the Gulf well
in battling land loss. These projects have been challenging to
implement and very satisfying to see to completion."

GLDD was pleased to see WIIN signed into law. "In addition to
many new projects, WIIN covers policy issues that will affect our
marketplace for years to come," Hanson said. "Among them are the
cost-sharing provisions for maintenance dredging, continued HMTF
reform, emphasis on regional sediment management and beneficial
use of dredged material."

Magnolia Dredge Replenishes Marshland

In a project completed early last year, Magnolia Dredge &
Dock - working as a subcontractor - pumped material from the
bottom of Lake Borgne at Alligator Point to assist in recreating
nearly 500 acres of marsh, where land had eroded, Magnolia sales
manager Michael Johnson in Mandeville, La. said. Healthy marsh
absorbs storm surge and floodwater, protecting the coast. The
project was under the auspices of a mitigation bank managed by
Ecosystem Investment Partners, a private equity firm in
Baltimore, Maryland.

Since the early 1980s, the nation's mitigation banks have helped
manage natural resources longer term. In south Louisiana,
mitigation banking sets standards for land restoration in
compliance with a "no net-loss of wetlands" provision in the
Clean Water Act. Credits for restoration are sold to developers
with projects that might impact ecosystems adversely.

Separately, "other recent work by Magnolia includes
industrial-environmental dredging to remove contaminants from
waterways, and to restore and clean process ponds for South
Louisiana's petrochemical plants and paper mills," Johnson said.

Potential big WIIN for the Mississippi

WIIN, which includes the Water Resources Development Act of 2016
or WRDA 2016, increases opportunities for the dredging industry.
"The most important WRDA 2016 project for our Big River Coalition
membership is deepening the Mississippi River ship channel from
Baton Rouge to the Gulf to 50 feet," Sean Duffy said. "WRDA 2016
reduces the non-federal, cost-share of channel deepening up to a
threshold of 50 feet, from 50-percent federal and 50-percent
non-federal to 75-percent federal and 25-percent non-federal. It
expedites feasibility studies for three navigation-related
projects and makes incremental improvements in Army Corps
processes and data transparency, in harbor-maintenance spending
targets, and in non-federal options for maintaining navigation
channels."

"If Congress provides the authorized funding, and the Corps
completes these projects, WRDA 2016 will increase supply-chain
transportation and port options and efficiencies," Duffy
predicted. Late last year, the Big River Coalition was glad to
see the Army Corps' draft report and its Supplemental
Environmental Impact Statement on deepening the Mississippi River
ship channel, or MRSC, to 50 feet, Duffy said. The Coalition has
been engaged with the Corps and its non-federal sponsor--the
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development--on this
effort and believes that bringing the MRSC into the neopanamax
future is critical. The Coalition will continue to assist the
Corps and LDOTD to ensure the channel is deepened.

Equipment Availability Depends on Government Decisions

Nationally, "there weren't always enough hopper dredges in recent
years to respond to needs," Duffy said. "But by the end of this
year, two new large hoppers will be available. Great Lakes Dredge
& Dock will have their new ELLIS ISLAND, the largest hopper
dredge in the nation, ready to begin work towards the second
quarter of 2017. And Weeks Marine is constructing a large hopper
dredge that should be on line by the end of the year."

The navigation and dredging industries depend on federal
appropriations, and if increased funding were annually
consistent, industry would respond by building new equipment,
Duffy said. Navigation would benefit from having
better-maintained channels. Meanwhile, the average,
per-cubic-yard cost of using cutterhead dredges declined in the
last few years because of a perceived abundance of cutterheads,
he said.

(As published in the February 2017 edition of
Marine News
)

Mar 9, 2017

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