Leaders celebrate finish of first phase of Mississippi River dredging project

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 10:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A throng of state and local leaders met Tuesday night (Aug. 16) to celebrate the completion of the first of two phases of a $250 million project to deepen the Mississippi River, allowing larger vessels to navigate to the state’s major ports.

The event, hosted by the Big River Coalition, marked the Army Corps of Engineers’ culmination of the dredging of the Mississippi River Ship Channel to Port New Orleans. The river channel was deepened to provide a maximum draft of 50 feet.

The Ship Channel leads to four of America’s 15 largest ports: Port of New Orleans, Port of South Louisiana, Port of Greater Baton Rouge and the Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District.

Sean Duffy, who heads the Big River Coalition, said his group has worked for 10 years with multiple local and state leaders and agencies to revitalize efforts to deepen the channel.

“Maritime projects are not simple. We got scabs on our elbows and blisters and hard things to deal with at times,” Duffy said. “It’s been real challenging, but it’s great news.”

Louisiana is putting forward $81 million toward the project, which costs an estimated $250 million.

The second phase covers areas north of the Huey P. Long Bridge, which already have been mechanically deepened, but require additional work to open up the deeper draft.

Paul Matthews, CEO of Port of South Louisiana, said the project will bolster the state economy, adding jobs and solidifying the position of Louisiana’s ports.

“Particularly at Port of South Louisiana, we feed and fuel the world with more than 100 million tons of grain going out. And now more than 100 million tons of chemical products,” Matthews said. “This is an opportunity to make sure Louisiana and the Mississippi River stays on the global map as a major player in the maritime industry.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards, Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy and U.S. Rep. Troy Carter attended the celebration, along with a batch of state leaders and port directors.

“I think as each person turns on their TV every day, we’re looking at issues with the supply chain, and the Mississippi River is the natural gateway into the Midwest,” said Brandy Christian, CEO of Port of New Orleans. “That’s where so much retail, manufacturing is happening. This really makes Mississippi River competitive.”

“Now that the Panama Canal has deepened and widened, and the Lower Mississippi has been dredged to match that aperture, it’s gonna be dynamic,” said Sandy Sanders, Executive Director of Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District.

In his remarks, Edwards said the project will create thousands of jobs, with its impacts being felt nationally and internationally. The governor did not take questions at the event.

“The Mississippi River is an economic superhighway,” Duffy said. “The deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel is truly a historic project that will create thousands of jobs, has already restored 2,000 acres of wetlands and will generate increased revenue for those whose livelihoods depend upon the river for generations to come.”

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