Darren Wright of the tides and currents branch of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration gave a presentation on what his branch does as well as what instruments the Port of Morgan City will have installed in the Atchafalaya Bar Channel, which extends south beyond the end of the Atchafalaya River, at Monday’s Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District meeting.
Wright said his branch is responsible for providing tide tables and tide prediction tables.
The agitation dredging work involves dredging the river to get rid of some of the “fluff” or sediment that builds up on the bottom of the river to maintain a true 20-foot-deep channel to make it navigable.
The channel is required to be at least 20 feet deep by congressional mandate.
The instruments to be installed beneath the dredging work are part of a program called the Physical Oceanographic Real Time System, or PORTS.
The instruments will measure wave action, current, wind and turbidity, and will also provide storm surge and weather predictions, said Port of Morgan City Executive Director Jerry Hoffpauir. “We’ll almost be able to look at those instruments and say ‘it’s time to dredge’ before a boat runs aground,” he said.
The port already has two of the instruments installed in the area, and will be using 2011 Port Security grant money to install three more instruments within the next two years, Hoffpauir said.
“That’s where we’re going to be putting out at the mouth of the river in probably two years,” Hoffpauir said. “Theoretically, we could get started within a year, and the construction time is nothing. It’s just a matter of steel pipe welding and putting the instruments on. The only thing that would delay it would be the availability of the instruments.”
The tides and currents branch of NOAA created PORTS at the request of Congress when it inquired about setting up a system with real time tides and currents data after an accident in Tampa Bay in 1980 where a container vessel hit the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and “took out the whole thing,” Wright said. “It was determined that currents in that area pushed that tanker into that bridge,” Wright said.
PORTS is a partnership program between NOAA and the local entity, the Port of Morgan City, Wright said. NOAA is funded for program management, data collection and data dissemination, and the local entity must provide what information it needs and where it needs sensors, he said.
The system will also be helpful to the U.S. Coast Guard, said Cpt. Jonathan Burton of the Coast Guard. “Clearly one of the benefits particularly in our region here is the fact that we have such dynamic waterways that rise and fall at the drop of a hat that having this kind of real time data would be an incredible boom to the shipping industry,” Burton said.
In other business, the commission
—Approved the sub-grantee agreement with the Town of Berwick for the purchase of night vision goggles and thermal cameras.
—Approved Port Commission President Jerry Gauthier to sign a letter of no objections from Miller Engineers & Associates on behalf of the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission regarding its tourist center.
—Approved the purchase of tires not to exceed $19,000 for a cherry picker and $2,553 for tires for a forklift.
—Approved the purchase of a four-wheeler.