The Big River just got a whole lot bigger. Well, technically deeper.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has marked the completion of the first two phases of the Mississippi River Ship Channel deepening. The project provides a minimum depth of 53 feet that will allow ships with drafts up to 50 feet to call at the Port of New Orleans.
USACE was joined by Lousisiana officials, stakeholders and the Big River Coalition to celebrate the deepening.
“The deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel is a transformational project that will bolster our economy, create and sustain jobs, and solidify Louisiana’s status as a global anchor for trade,” said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.
Earlier this month, the M/V Capri, loaded with a record 134,706 metric tons of coal, became the first ship to transit on the Ship Channel with a draft of 50 feet upon departure. The Capri departed on the Ship Channel with a Crescent River Port Pilot on board until the pilot exchange occurred at Pilottown, at which point a Bar Pilot took over for the outbound voyage through Southwest Pass to the Gulf of Mexico.
“The Bar Pilots applaud the ongoing joint efforts of local, state and federal governmental agencies, our elected representatives and the maritime community to keep our ports competitive. The completion of the 50- foot deepening project on the Mississippi River Ship Channel is proof positive that the Lower Mississippi River Valley is open for business on a new level, ” said Captain Michael Miller, President of the Associated Branch Pilots (Bar Pilots) and Chairman of the Big River Coalition.
The increased draft is available through the Port of New Orleans to the Huey P. Long Bridge, located at Mile 106, above Head of Passes (AHP). Expansion of the deeper draft above the Huey P. Long Bridge, from 49 feet to 50 feet, will require additional improvements, although the dredging has been completed to Mile 175 AHP, along with the additional 20 miles of Southwest Pass, making for 195 miles total.
Phase 1 work began in 2020 when Weeks Marine’s cutterhead dredge Captain Frank began work on the initial dredge contract, five miles above Head of Passes. USACE also awarded a contract for both another cutterhead dredge and a hopper dredge to Manson Construction Co. to complete the first phase of the deepening.
The Mississippi River Ship Channel is home to four of the top 15 ports in the United States by annual tonnage, namely Port of Greater Baton Rouge, Port of South Louisiana, Port of New Orleans and the Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District. The overall costs for the project were estimated at $250 million, with the State of Louisiana committing $81 million to match the non-federal sponsor cost-share.
“Bigger ships carrying more cargo means more jobs and economic opportunity for Louisiana and the Nation,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy. “This project is a top priority for Louisiana’s entire federal delegation.”
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