MORGAN CITY — Sen. David Vitter visited the Port of Morgan City in a roundtable event Tuesday afternoon where civic, port, and business leaders expressed concerns over dredging and flood protection issues.
Jerry Hoffpauir, executive director of the Morgan City Harbor & Terminal District, spoke of efforts at reducing dredging costs and securing dredging for passable channels.
And a representative of McDermott shipyard in Amelia addressed problems in arranging movements through the Bar Channel in the lower Atchafalaya.
“For us, our jobs depend on the channel,” Harold Filer, facility engineer with McDermott, said, adding that his customers get concerned about the navigability of the channel.
“In our world, if you don’t have a definitive start date and a definitive end date [for dredging], we get nervous. We’ve had to put some onus on the corps to make sure that the dredging happens,” he said.
Vitter asked Filer how far ahead in time he needed to know about dredging, which can only be done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The thing that’s a little scary for us right now is that originally, sail-out was scheduled for the end of December,” Filer said. “Now, because of delays, it’s being pushed toward the end of January. If the dredging finishes in November, there is more time for more build-up and more problems.”
Hoffpauir said the port has tried to get the corps to accept either water-injected dredging or side-casting, which he said would be not only cheaper but more reliable.
Vitter said, “Well, obviously, the right solution is to get this funding stable and have more, regular dredging, and we are, as I said, working on that through the Ramp Act ideas and other things. In the meantime, if y’all are ever focused on a particular sail-out on a particular project and you want me to personally rattle somebody’s cage about a few weeks that need to be assured, let us know, and I’ll have that meeting or that phone call.”
Hoffpauir replied, “Well, hopefully when we finish our project, we won’t have to fool with the corps that much. We really think it’s going to work.”
Vitter said, “If the outcome of that project is that you don’t have to fool with the corps that much, that will be far more important than just assuring proper depth in the channel.”
Vitter and Hoffpauir discussed the cost savings involved in the dredging experiment, and how those savings should convince the corps to adopt the port’s methods.
“If option three makes the most sense, are they going to accept that practice?” Vitter asked of the side-casting method.
“Yes, but that’s where the rub comes in,” Hoffpauir said. “They’re going to have to go out and build or get someone to build a side-caster, and that’s basically a barge with a pump on it with two men manning it with a tug pulling it. The good part is that it will have our own survey vessel — through the Port Security Grant Program — that we will use to survey every other week, and when you see a little mound build up, send the barge out there, agitate the mound, and you’re done. They’re just now starting to get excited about it.”
Mayor Tim Matte of Morgan City spoke to Vitter about the Bayou Chene Flood Control Structure.
“I can tell you that the St. Mary Levee District is moving forward with it without any regard for who’s going to pay for what or build what because it’s that important, but at some point, the federal government does need to step in and take responsibility,” Matte said.
“I guess the strategy is to utilize as many resources as they can to get a project that is shovel-ready. In the meantime, it is the corps’ position, as I understand it, to make that determination if there is in fact a federal interest, if it should be a 100 percent federal project,” he said.
Matte said the project should be part of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project.