U.S. Coast Guard Executive Officer Cmdr. Blake Welborn, who is based at the Marine Safety Unit Morgan City, said northbound traffic on the Atchafalaya River has been reopened through Morgan City, while the north-south route locally to the Mississippi River through the Port Allen Locks, known as the Port Allen route, also has been re-opened.
While the water has dropped, Welborn warned that the current still is swift.
The high water also is forcing delays at the Bayou Boeuf Locks, where Welborn said it is taking between an hour to an hour and a half to “lock” boats through.
“The lock master is putting as many barges as they can, sometimes two or three tows apiece, to try to get them through there as quickly as possible,” he said.
Also, the barge in Bayou Chene should be removed around July 1, Welborn said the St. Mary Parish Levee District told him.
While the channel will be dredged to its authorized 400 foot wide by 20-foot depth, the rocks along the bank where the barge was placed will remain in place — in case the waterway needs to be blocked off hastily for future emergencies — and will be marked by the Coast Guard.
“It is creating a bottleneck to a certain extent there in the Bayou Chene area, so we’re very concerned about” getting them marked, so vessel operators are aware of them, Wellborn said.
It’s also troublesome for some of the port’s tenants.
“We (Port) have at least two tenants that it’s still impeding their commerce by having the Chene (blocked off). They understand it was a good thing to protect the community … but right now with the water falling, they’re still having to go back up the Houma (Navigation Canal) … back to their yard,” Commissioner Duane Lodrigue told Welborn in urging the opening of the waterway as quickly but safely as possible.
The Levee District is looking to remove the structure when the differntial between the protected and unprotected sides is at a foot. Right now a 2-foot difference exists.
While, Welborn said no shoaling has been reported along the Port Allen route, he said nine groundings were reported this past weekend within the 20 Grant Point area in Morgan City.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to begin dredging this area Thursday. The Corps has said it will take them approximately two days to clear that area of shoaling and to survey it.
Anh Nguyen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District said surveying would begin in Berwick Bay now that the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railroad bridge has been opened.
She said surveying would be done in the Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel this week, but surveying in Bayou Chene will not be complete until the barge has been removed.
Surveying also will be done on the Berwick side of Berwick Bay to determine if any scouring has occurred from the swift current with increased velocities of the Atchafalaya as it passes the area and then whips around Tidwater Point.
Nguyen said about $8.5 million is in the port’s dredging account for work and the Corps may request up to an additional $23.5 million — $15 million for the Atchafalaya Bar Channel and $8.5 million for Bayou Chene — to conduct emergency dredging following this high water event.
She said costs could be better determined after the surveys are complete.
Port consultant Martin Cancienne of The Livingston Group in Washington, D.C. said that the number the Corps has been floating around for all of its emergency dredging needs following the high water event is $2 billion.
He said the possibility of funding an Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill for this work still is looming as Congress is waiting on the White House to send them its request.
If any emergency money is passed, Cancienne said Congress is going to want to offset the costs somewhere.
Commissioner Matt Ackel requested that Nguyen look at the installation of rock finger piers on the Berwick side of Berwick Bay using rocks from the Demonstration Channel Alignment Structure that was installed farther downstream but failed to work. The Corps has studied this fingerlings concept in the past as a way to channel the current to the middle of Berwick Bay, which Ackel reasoned may reduce dredging.