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A shrimp boat is tied up Monday along the Berwick riverfront, where high water remains. The Atchafalaya at Morgan City was at 7.9 feet Monday night and is expected to crest at 8.2 feet Friday, or 2.2 feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. (The Daily Review/Bill Decker)

High water worsens shoaling headache

The several months of high water in the Morgan City area is only worsening the sediment accumulation issues that already existed in the area’s waterways.

Plans to dredge Bayou Chene have been put on hold due to the Atchafalaya River dredging project needing funds that would’ve been spent on Bayou Chene, said Tim Connell, Atchafalaya region manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during Monday’s Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District Commission meeting.

Bayou Chene hasn’t been dredged in about a decade. Officials say sediment buildup has necessitated dredging in that area. But the Corps is proposing delaying that work until later in the year so that funds from next year can help pay for the dredging, too, Connell said.

This proposed dredging of Bayou Chene is separate from the dredging of the bayou for the Bayou Chene Flood Control and Diversion Project.

The river dredging base contract is about $15 million. Officials plan to take over $6 million from the Bayou Chene dredging project to use in the river.

Increased sediment accumulation, or shoaling, caused by the extended high water event has contributed to the river dredging project being more costly, he said.

Port of Morgan City Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said he has never seen the river as a whole in such poor shape from a shoaling standpoint.

One spot in the river is only 5 feet deep, and officials intend to remove 17 feet of sediment in that location, Connell said.

The Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel, which starts at the river’s end, are authorized to be 20 feet deep, and officials hope to get the waterways to at least a consistent 20-foot depth within the next few months.

Though the bar channel hasn’t been dredged in roughly three years, the conditions are essentially the same as they were back then in the channel, which reaches a certain level doesn’t accumulate any more sediment, Wade said.

One bright side to the high water is that officials expect to eventually get supplemental dredging funds to deal with the dire condition of the area’s waterways, Connell said.

Dredging of the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel should begin in June. Brice Civil Constructors plan to use an offshore support vessel with a drag arm to reduce the density of the fluid mud, known as fluff, in the channel. The vessel has already arrived at Halimar Shipyard, Connell said. The Brice contract is funded up to $14 million.

Shoaling in the Berwick Bay and nearby Stouts Pass is also extremely bad, and “it’s going to be a desperate situation when the water drops,” Connell said. Those areas are severely short on dredging funds unless officials are able to get substantial supplemental funding. Connell estimates the Corps needs at least over $6 million to address these spots.

Nicholls State University and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority recently signed a memorandum of understanding creating a new coastal studies center at Nicholls. The center will focus on studying the Atchafalaya and Terrebonne basins to aid in the implementation of coastal restoration projects.

That’s big and welcome news for the Port of Morgan City as port leaders push to find a way to get fertile sediment dredged from the Atchafalaya River to where it’s needed in the dying Terrebonne Parish marshes.

“This I believe will make our case for that long-distance sediment pipeline from the Atchafalaya into Terrebonne a lot stronger with this center and all of the studies that go on,” said Cindy Cutrera, the port’s economic development manager.

In other business, the commission

—Approved the port’s insurance policy renewal with Paul’s Agency at a total increase of about $1,700.

—Renewed an agreement for services of Cassidy & Associates Inc. principally through Charles Brittingham for assistance with dredging and sediment management issues at a cost of $10,000 per month.

— Approved entering into a service agreement with AIC for $25,825.

—Approved entering into an agreement with Encos Environmental and Coastal Services for $39,978 for work on the port’s weather stations.

—Approved a payment of $61,018.

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