MORGAN CITY — The need to dredge Berwick Bay and the Atchafalaya River channel are evident, but funds to accomplish the task are short.
Mike Lowe with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District board Monday night that the Corps has $2 million it can devote to the project, but as much as $8 million may be needed to dredge all the extra sediment deposited by the high water in May and June.
“We’ll try to do this with what we have,” Lowe said. “We open bids July 19” for dredging in Berwick Bay.
The biggest problem in the bay, Lowe said, is a build-up of sand near the Rio Fuel dock and southward. Capt. Jonathan Burton, chief of the local Coast Guard unit, said there was also a significant build-up of sediment at 20 Grand Point which caused a lot of groundings when traffic was reopened after the high water fell.
Jonathan Hird of Moffatt and Nichol said the coming dredging cycle will be used as a demonstration for the feasibility study of the different methods of agitation dredging under consideration for the port. Port officials are looking for a cheaper and more effective dredging method that might allow the port to have to dredge less often.
Lowe also reported to the board that the Atchafalaya Bar Channel is shifting westward slightly in Horseshoe Bend, and that there have been reports of sandbars building near the banks of Bayou Chene.
St. Mary Levee District Chairman Bill Hidalgo told port commissioners that the levee district is in the process of removing the barge that blocked backflow from Bayou Chene and the Atchafalaya River into Bayou Black, Lake Palourde and other areas.
“It’s a lot harder to get out than it was to put in,” Hidalgo said. While an emergency was declared for installation, allowing the district to bypass some of the normal procedures, “now we have to put everything out for bid.”
Hidalgo said bidding information should be available to interested contractors by Thursday, with a bid conference set for Monday and bids due by the following Thursday.
Some of the rock and sheetpile installed for the barge will be retained in place, and some that is removed will be stored for possible reinstallation later when construction begins on a permanent structure to block Bayou Chene when needed. The levee district will seek assistance with funding the estimated $30 million project from federal and state sources and the surrounding parishes that will benefit from the structure.
Port consultant and lobbyist Martin Cancienne said the chances of securing federal funding for much any time soon are slim.
“Washington is pretty much shut down,” Cancienne said. Failure by Congress to raise the debt ceiling and otherwise address the national debt could have a drastic trickle-down effect on the business sector, he added, though he projected congressional leaders would come to an agreement before the deadline.
Local port funding will come from a 4.51-mill tax, which will remain at the same level as the current levy. Treasurer Deborah Garber said the most recent financial statements show a deficit of about $2 million, due to capital expenditures; much of that spending will eventually be reimbursed.
In other business:
—Port economic development director Cindy Cutrera said tonnage through the port in 2010 should be about the same or slightly lower than in 2009. Bigger drops at other ports around the country could allow the port to move up from the 98th position in national port rankings.
—Grant consultant Mike Knobloch told the board that information surrounding Port Security Program grants has been classified as secret security information and cannot be discussed in open session. He said he would send information for members to review under password protection, and Commissioner Greg Aucoin requested that an executive session be scheduled during the August meeting to talk about the grant program.
—Port Executive Director Jerry Hoffpauir said bulkheading and other construction at the new InterMoor site are ahead of schedule.
—Construction of a boat launch for the Coast Guard is in a public comment period, and a construction permit is under review by the Corps of Engineers.
—State Senate candidate Bret Allain addressed the board.