Morgan City port looks at dredging alternative

MORGAN CITY, La. — Engineers are looking to test a new dredging method in the Atchafalaya Bar Channel that is projected to be about 10 times cheaper than the method that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been using.

Engineering firm Moffat & Nichol has been doing work on the agitation dredging project to test the sidecaster dredging method to agitate the “fluff” or pudding-like sediment mixture that builds up in the channel.

At Monday’s Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission meeting, Jonathan Hird of Moffat & Nichol said the channel is only “clean” at its mandated 20-foot depth for a short period of time, and engineers are trying to determine how to extend that period.

The port is looking at possibly using a sidecaster dredge instead of the cutter-head dredge that has previously been used.

Former Port Executive Director Jerry Hoffpauir compared cutter-head dredging “to pulling a bulldozer blade behind a tug and keeping the sediment agitated.”

Sidecasting involves agitating the fluff through suction and casting it to the side of the channel.

The cutter-head dredge is more efficient than the sidecasting dredge, but costs about 10 times more per dredging cycle, Hird said. There is a sidecaster vessel that has done some dredging work in the Florida panhandle that may be able to dredge the bar channel when it comes down for other projects in the area, he said.

Testing for sidecaster dredging in the bar channel may begin as early as the first part of 2014 depending on corps’ funding.

The goal of sidecaster dredging is to get at least some of the fluff out of the channel, but the sidecaster can only cast the sediment so far, Mike Lowe of the Corps of Engineers said. Therefore, the corps must decide what factors to use to determine the effectiveness of the method, he said.

The sidecaster dredge was never intended to entirely replace cutter-head dredging, Lowe said.

The project partnership agreement between the Corps of Engineers and the port was signed Sept. 4, which had to be signed before any more corps projects could begin.

The corps can now move forward on the project to put rocks down in the Crewboat Cut in the Atchafalaya River. Bids to provide rocks for the project are scheduled to open today, Lowe said.

The project involves putting down rocks in the cut to keep sediment from flowing back into the cut that the corps is trying to open up. The contract for the project is scheduled to be awarded by Sept. 26.

Lowe said fiscal year 2013 funding the corps dedicated to the Crewboat Cut project will be used for the “base portion” of the project, but will not be able to complete the entire project.

The entire project has to be completed before the cut can be navigated, Lowe said.

Port Special Projects Coordinator Mike Knobloch said the port applied for $2.1 million in the fiscal year 2013 port security grant, but received about $300,000.

Knobloch is not sure yet what the money will be used for because the projects originally planned to be completed with the grant money were going to be $1.9 million and $450,000, he said. The grant requires a 25 percent match.

Knobloch has an idea to use the grant money, but cannot go public with the idea until he finds out specifically where the money can be used, he said.

Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission President Jerry Gauthier said the port is still in negotiations with Gulfcoast Transportation & Logistics LLC, based in Belle Chasse, to potentially lease the port’s facilities after the commission gave approval to sign a letter of intent to enter into a lease agreement at a special meeting on Aug. 28. “The ball’s in their court now to get us some more information if they are sincere about leasing it,” Gauthier said. The letter of intent is non-binding to either party, he said.

In other business, the commission voted to declare the old security guard station surplus property and be put up for sale.

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