USA: Big River Coalition Releases Mississippi River Dredging Study

Big River Coalition Releases Mississippi River Dredging Study

The Mississippi River is the highway to the vast central portion of the United States. Many of the commodities and goods produced in the heartland of the United States are brought to world markets via the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond to the world economies. Likewise, important products are transported from the rest of the world to the entire United States via the Mississippi River.

Much of the Midwest grain and crop production can only competitively enter world markets via waterborne transportation through the Mississippi River. Any increase in costs to U. S. producers, especially farmers, would therefore lead to lost production to foreign competitors. In addition, a large portion of the United States gasoline supply is transported as foreign crude oil to oil refineries on the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River system offers users significantly reduced transportation costs when compared to overland methods; however, draft restrictions on the Lower Mississippi River (specifically at Southwest Pass) reduce the positive cost savings. The increased costs associated with draft or channel restrictions negates the competitive advantage U.S. shippers have over competing world markets and threatens the vital competitive advantage of U. S. producers.

Much of this is threatened by the decision of the Corps of Engineers to reduce dredging activity on the Lower Mississippi River (LMR), specifically at the three areas that require maintenance dredging: the Crossings, the New Orleans Harbor, and Southwest Pass. Historically, the Corps has dredged the River to depths that would allow vessels with draft in excess of 45 feet to navigate the passes to and out of the River. The current USACE budget will lead to significantly reduced widths and depths on the LMR.

In the face of the current government fiscal crisis, funding for the Corps of Engineers dredging budget has been cut. According to the Louisiana Congressional delegation, the reduction amounts to $45 million per year. Current discussions call for a dredging program that may only be able to maintain depths of 38 feet in certain areas of the LMR. There are vessel operators that require several feet of clearance below their vessels keels, the most cautious require up to three feet of under-keel clearance. These vessels could then be reduced to drafts of 35 feet when the controlling depth on the LMR is 38 feet.

If the controlling depth is reduced to 38 feet of draft, the nation and the world stand to lose 12.38 million tons of exports (12.4% of the total) and 5.87 million tons of imports (5.5% of the total). On the export side, the most affected commodities are soybeans and other agricultural products and on the import side, most of the impact or loss will be crude oil destined for the refineries along the Mississippi River.

More info: Mississippi

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Dredging Today Staff, January 16, 2012; Image: usace

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