Dredging funds keep flowing in to the Port of Morgan City.

Just three months after learning that the port’s annual funds to dredge its waterways will double in 2019, port leaders learned they will get another $28 million in dredging funds to use during the next two years.

Officials received news last week that the port should receive $20 million in supplemental dredging funds through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel, Port Executive Director Raymond “Mac” Wade said.

“This is a huge, huge boost for the area,” Wade said. “Now, our stakeholders … can have confidence that they’re going to have a reliable, usable channel hopefully in the very near future.”

The Atchafalaya River and Bar Channel are congressionally authorized to be 20 feet deep, but many places in the waterways are significantly shallower than that due to accumulation of sediment.

In 2017, a study showed that having the Bar Channel maintained to 20 feet deep, 365 days a year would have an annual economic impact of at least $137 million and up to $270 million.

“It’s going to give us a chance to get the river back to what we’re authorized,” Wade said of the added funds.

Those funds will be used to dredge spots where sand accumulates in the Atchafalaya River beginning about 10 miles south of Morgan City. Also, these funds will help dredge fluid mud, known as fluff, which builds up in the Bar Channel making navigation difficult or impossible for many vessels. The Bar Channel begins at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Bayous Boeuf, Chene and Black will be dredged under this contract as well.

Sand accumulation has become a problem closer to the port, too. Another $8.1 million has been secured to dredge the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in the Morgan City area. That funding includes dredging of Berwick Bay, Wade said.

The supplemental funds are part of a package that came out of Hurricane Harvey federal relief legislation. Port leaders had been hearing for several months that the funding was coming, but didn’t receive official word until the end of last week.

In February, Port of Morgan City officials learned that the port’s 2019 fiscal year dredging budget was going to be roughly double what it received for 2018, going from $6 million to nearly $13 million. The 2019 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, 2018. The 2019 fiscal year funds can only be spent during that year.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, were both instrumental in helping secure the $28 million in additional funds for the port, Wade said.

In a news release, Higgins commended the Corps after announcing that it is releasing over $141 million in funds for projects in Louisiana’s 3rd District, part of a $205 million total for Louisiana.

“My office battled to secure this critical increase in dredging and maintenance funding, and I look forward to continuing our work with the Corps to ensure greater investment in South Louisiana,” Higgins said.

Cassidy also sees dredging projects as vital to the state.

“When I met with the Corps, I stressed the importance of providing Louisiana with the resources needed to make significant progress on these projects and others, and I’m glad they are listening,” Cassidy said in a release.

These supplemental funds will be available for use starting within “the next several months,” Wade said. Brice Civil Constructors, which plans to dredge the Bar Channel, will likely start dredging in late September or early October.

The supplemental funds can be used throughout a two-year period.

“That will give us time to spend it very wisely and very carefully and make sure … wherever we’ve got trouble spots, (we) get them all cleaned up,” Wade said.

Zachary Fitzgerald, Daily Review

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