Landrieu: Congress must understand importance of navigable waterways

MORGAN CITY, La. -- Congress must realize the importance of keeping Louisiana waterways open and viable, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, said Tuesday afternoon after chairing a workforce development workshop on the campus of Fletcher Technical Community College. This includes the annual dredging of the Atchafalaya River which is overseen by the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Morgan City Mayor Frank Grizzaffi said the annual dredging of the Berwick Bay is not usually an issue, but there can be difficulty in locating supplemental funds from the corps after high water events or other unusually high silting periods.

“An adequately maintained depth of the Atchafalaya River is vital to the area, region and nation,” Grizzaffi said.

Port of Morgan City Executive Director Jerry Hoffpauir said that the port is the second busiest port in the country behind Houston with as many as 6,000 passages a month.

The flow of traffic through Berwick and Morgan City can be affected as the river is choked with sediment due to a 70/30 water flow distribution between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers which is maintained through the Old River Control Complex at the Red River. Silt from more than 30 states drains into the Mississippi River system and finds its way into the Atchafalaya River.

The corps contracts dredges to keep navigation lanes open with a mandated depth of at least 20 feet over a 400 foot width of the river bottom.

Grizzaffi said annual dredging of Berwick Bay, from the railroad tracks to Conrad Industries, began this week. Grizzaffi and about 30 other officials and businessmen from Morgan City and Berwick are leaving this morning to go to Krotz Springs for a boat tour of the river there with corps officials, he said.

Hoffpauir said the dredging is being done by Weeks Dredging and should take about two months. The mouth of the river may need to be dredged soon, he said.

Landrieu said the corps agreed in February 2012 to provide $22.1 million in additional funding for major waterways in Louisiana. The decision came after the Louisiana congressional delegation urged the corps to provide the necessary investments in under-funded waterway projects in Louisiana.

Grizzaffi said that kind of support is needed to make sure that the competitive race for project funding doesn’t ignore the Atchafalaya River.

“It is important to have our congressional representation on board to keep our river navigable and river friendly,” Grizzaffi said.

Landrieu said she sponsored The New Harbor Maintenance Act this year with 28 other Senate co-sponsors that, along with other legislation, is attempting to protect the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund from being raided and used for purposes besides river dredging and port improvement projects.

More than half of the fund was used last year to fund other spending, she said.

“This legislation is extremely important for the proper maintenance of Louisiana’s waterways, which serve as gateways to domestic and international trade,” Landrieu said. “Even though Louisiana’s port system is the largest in the world and supports economic growth throughout the country, the waterways that serve these ports are not being adequately maintained. We need the Harbor Maintenance Act to ensure these funds are used as intended for our ports and waterways.”

Other legislation with a similar intent has been sponsored this year by Sen. David Vitter, R-New Orleans, and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette.

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