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Lower Mississippi River Deepening Feasibility Study

By: Sean M. Duffy, Sr.
Executive Director
Big River Coalition

The Big River Coalition’s mission includes a primary focus of advocating at the state and federal level to increase the federally authorized depth of the Mississippi River deep-draft channel from 45 feet to 50 feet. The new locks on the Panama Canal will provide a depth of 50 feet and in order to maximize the transportation cost savings future navigation channels must offer the ability to accept post-Panamax vessels by matching the controlling draft of 50 feet. The Coalition has identified three steps that must be accomplished to deepen the Lower Mississippi River deep-draft navigation channel  to 50 feet.

1) The federal threshold for full federal channel maintenance responsibilities must be increased from 45 feet to 50 feet. The 45 feet limit was imposed in the Water Resources and Development Act of 1986 (WRDA 1986). This threshold was recently altered to 50 feet by the Water Resources and Reform Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014), in a large part due to Senator David Vitter’s leadership as the Ranking Member of the United States Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.
Status: Step #1 has now been completed via the WRRDA 2014.

2) An updated economic impact feasibility study that details the economic benefits for deepening the Lower Mississippi River to 50 feet must be completed. This new study will update the information contained in the 1981 United States Army  Corps of Engineer’s (USACE) Chief’s report. This Chief’s report provided a benefit cost ratio that ultimately led to the Lower Mississippi River deep-draft channel’s federally authorized depth being increased from 40 feet to 55 feet (WRDA 1986). The LMR was then deepened but only to 45 feet because of the threshold limit addressed in #1.
Please bare in mind the economic justification was verified at least 20 years before anyone envisioned the Panama Canal being deepened to 50 feet. Federal legislation requires this study be cost shared by the USACE and the nonfederal sponsor the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LDOTD). The economic impact study will cost a maximum of $3 million thus a $1.5 million commitment for each is required. The study is expected to take between 2 to 3 years to complete.
Status: The LMR Deepening Feasibility Study is now an official project with $50,000 dedicated by the Corps for Fiscal Year 2014. The state of Louisiana approved House Bill 2 with Amendment #41 that agreed to fund the state’s cost-share of the deepening study at $1.5 million. The Coalition is working with state officials to ensure that the approved funding is appropriated and with members of the delegation to secure additional federal funds.

3) The actual deepening of the LMR to 50 feet will also require a 50-50 cost-share between the USACE and the state of Louisiana (LDOTD). The feasibility study will determine if this project warrants a federal investment. The actually deepening will be conducted in two phases, Phase 1 from Venice (approximately Mile 9 Above Head of Passes [AHP]) to the end of Southwest Pass and Phase 2 is from Belmont Crossing (Mile 154 AHP) to Baton Rouge (Mile 233.9). The deepening project is expected to cost approximately $300 million dollars.
Status: Securing the funding and beginning the dredging to deepen the LMR will be determined based upon the feasibility study. Assuming the feasibility study is favorable and completed in 2-3 years, the Phase 1 deepening could be completed in 5-6 years. The latest projections from the Panama Canal plan for the new locks to be opened in December 2015 to January 2016.

 

 

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