NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Nowhere else will you find a scene quite like the one that played out this spring and summer near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
From Venice south to the mouth of the giant river, seven dredges chewed and sucked at the river bottom to keep the channel deep enough for ocean-going vessels.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District estimates about 53 percent of that dredge material is deposited by pipe into the nearby marsh in the Birdsfoot Delta.
Several centuries ago, the river changed course and coughed up a mountain of new earth in the shape of a birds foot, providing the inspiration for the name in this section of coast at the southern end of Plaquemines Parish.
Yet, the Birdsfoot Delta is conspicuously absent from the state’s Master Plan for coastal restoration, sacrificed on the belief that future sea level rise could doom this area.
With limited resources, the state focuses on levees or coastal projects closer to population centers upriver.
However, the Corps is spending roughly $191 million in the current fiscal year, keeping the river channel deep enough for navigation to cope with the bits of sand which naturally fall to the river bottom and build sandbars.
So far in the government’s 2019 fiscal year, engineers estimate the Corps and contractors have dredged 39.5 million cubic yards of material.
Based on the 53 percent estimate, 20.9 million cubic yards has been salvaged to be used for coastal restoration purposes, enough to fill roughly 1.5 million large dump trucks.
“I call this the largest restoration project in the world," Sean Duffy, an industry representative with the Big River Coalition, said.
Duffy estimates another 7 million cubic yards of material will still need to be dredged for maintenance, given the river’s high level in 2019.
“Since I’ve been saying that this last year, nobody’s told me that I was number two or number three," Duffy said. "Nobody’s argued.”
Since 2009, Duffy estimates the various dredging projects have converted 8,500 acres of open water to land, an area roughly 20 times the size of the French Quarter.