Christmas came two months early for the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the designation of Crewboat Cut, a channel in the lower reaches of the Atchafalaya River system, as the federally authorized route to the Gulf of Mexico.
The official paperwork was signed at the Corps’ headquarters in Washington, D.C., in mid-October.
Port of Morgan City officials stressed that the route requires little maintenance dredging compared to Horseshoe Bend, and reauthorization will mean the port will save $7.4 million in its Operations and Maintenance account on annual dredging expenditures.
Additionally, mariners testified that Crewboat Cut is the shorter, straighter and more preferred route to the Gulf of Mexico than Horseshoe Bend and saves them time and money.
Despite the Corps’ approval, the news wasn’t all good.
In a move that wasn’t unexpected, the Corps has said that 1.8 miles of property on the east bank immediately upstream from Crewboat Cut must be armored as a result of erosion concerns by landowners along the waterways when traffic increases once it is officially opened as the designated channel.
The channel cannot be opened until the approximately $5 million, expected to be funded by the federal government, is found and the rock is in place.
The Corps will fund the mooring and survey work required in the design for the rock placement.
The port was told by a Corps official in November when the announcement was made publicly that the project could sit idle for a year or more because of a lack of available funding.
With the authorization of Crewboat Cut, the Corps has said a full Dredged Material Management report will not be needed.
Instead, a preliminary assessment documenting such things as the availability of space to accommodate 20 years of maintenance dredging will be used.
As of mid-December, the Corps’ technical divisions were reviewing the preliminary assessment. Once the review is complete, it will be sent to the desk of Col. Ed Fleming, New Orleans District commander, for approval.
Continuing on the mixed-bag-of-news theme, the port finally was able to commence its field trials to find a technique to keep its sediment in the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel in suspension and keep the pudding-like substance known as fluff from clogging up jet-propulsion engines navigating through it.
Through the years, the port has struggled to keep its channel at authorized depths, because the fluff quickly forms after a dredging cycle finishes.
While the port has been working with a Baton Rouge firm, Moffatt and Nichol, to find a proper technique to keep its sediment in suspension, the results so far haven’t proven successful.
At the end of November, the port commenced its first option in its agitation dredging technique by dragging a beam — measuring 50-feet long, by 3-feet wide and weighing 35 tons — across the sediment, a technique called bottom profiling.
While results still are preliminary for the three trials, Sara Nash, a project manager with the Corps’ New Orleans District office, told port commissioners earlier this month that preliminary results from the nearly two-week trial didn’t appear successful so far.
More data analysis must be complete before officially declaring the bottom profiling technique a failure, though.
More details from the bottom profiling trials are not expected to be presented to the port until at least its February meeting.
However, there are other options, which the port identified in its Value Engineering Study to gather potential options to utilize to try to keep its sediment suspended, that can be tested.
The bottom profiling was the cheapest, most crude effort used.
The port also has identified the use of a machine called a sidecaster, which would gather the fluff in one side and shoot it out the other side, as well as the use of injecting water into the sediment, as options that could possible be utilized.
However, there isn’t a sidecaster fabricator in the area.
Those working on the port’s agitation dredging techniques will meet again in January to determine their next step.
Like Crewboat Cut, if a method to keep sediment suspended is found, it is expected to save the port millions on dredging expenditures.
The operations and maintenance dredging savings would be beneficial, especially because the federal government — and subsequently the Corps — is so strapped for cash that it appears that the days of ports receiving supplemental funding from the Corps are over.
Future tightening of the Corps’ coffers may lead to reduced operations on local locks, too.
In construction news, work is continuing on the bulkhead of InterMoor, an international maritime company that had outgrown its Amelia offices and moved in January to Morgan City — instead of back to its U.S. headquarters in Houston. Its new facility was built on land located on Youngswood Road that it is renting from the local port.
The port purchased the 24 acres of land for the waterfront facility from the H&B Young Foundation.
The lone remaining project, which has been undertaken this year, is the construction of bulkheading at InterMoor. The work is expected to be complete this month or sometime next month, according to the latest estimates.
In another construction project, the port recently authorized Gray Construction of Bayou Vista to begin constructing a boat launch for governmental agencies, which will be located behind the port’s office buildings on Youngs Road. Gray won the rights to the project with a $308,000 bid.
The project originally was supposed to be funded using Port Security Grant program monies, but because an “Environmental and Historic Preservation” certificate required for the work has not been received, the port elected to fund the project using its own monies, instead.
In addition to the launch, a boat shed and guard shack will be constructed.
The port also awarded engineering for the repaving of its parking lot to GSE Associates and awarded a contract for the repaving.
A notice to proceed is expected to be issued around the end of January. The parking lot will be complete a third at a time, and construction time is expected to take four months.
In other action during this past year, the port:
—Completed emergency dredging, following the high water this spring, in such areas as Berwick Bay, the Atchafalaya Bar and Bay Channel, and Wax Lake Crossing. During the work, at least 4 feet of dredged material — as well as debris — was removed from the Atchafalaya Bay, while in Berwick Bay, there was up to 2 feet of silt accumulation in some areas.
—The port has been granted $744,984 in 2009 Port Security Grant program monies, which are available for spending as long as they do not require an “Environmental and Historic preservation” certificate. The grant is a 75-25 (federal/local) cost share.
—The port’s boundaries were expanded to the eastern bank of the Calumet Cut with the passage of Louisiana House Bill 208 during this year’s legislative session.
—Agreed to pay an unspecified amount to compensate lost retirement contributions that both commissioners and port executive director Jerry Hoffpauir said they didn’t realize were not being taken out. The monies, which amounted to 10 percent of Hoffpauir’s salary, were supposed to be taken out and put into a retirement account in 2007 when Hoffpauir was rehired after former port director Tim Tregle resigned.
—Agreed not to renew its contract with The Livingston Group, a Washington, D.C.-based firm whose employee, Martin Cancienne, provided consulting services for the port in the nation’s capital. The contract was not needed, because there were no additional monies coming down from Washington that Cancienne could help the port haul in.
—Learned, according to unofficial estimates, that the port finished ranked 109 among U.S. ports in terms of carrying the most tonnage in 2010, a year after it was ranked 98th in the same listing. The dip in rankings on the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Fact Card, which is published a year later for the previous year, was because of a decrease in tonnage due to the BP oil spill and extended moratorium as well as a large increase in tonnage in the Great Lakes area. However, there apparently is very little difference in tonnage figures for those ranked between 100 and 109.
—Accepted the resignation of long-term commission member and president, Raymond “Mac” Wade on Sept. 1. He cited work commitments as the reason for his resignation but will remain active with the port and its board. Commission president Jerry Gauthier replaced Wade as president, while Greg Aucoin replaced Gauthier as vice president and Matt Ackel was named secretary, replacing Aucoin.
—Was the recipient of a new, automated tide reporting station at Martin Mainstream Fuel Services in Berwick. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station upgrade replaced one that was near water level and more vulnerable to storm surge.