GAO Releases Lower Mississippi River Dredging Report

A couple weeks ago, the General Accountability Office (GAO) presented dredging report for 13 Lower Mississippi River ports between St. Louis and Baton Rouge, La.

In the report, GAO reviewed the Corps’ 2010–2015 port traffic data for 13 of 18 inland ports in the region. Data for 2015 were the most recent available. GAO also interviewed Corps officials, industry stakeholders, and officials from 11 of 13 ports selected to include a range in terms of cargo handled, location, and dredging history.

According to GAO, a majority of the stakeholders they interviewed, as well as USACE officials, stated that funding constraints limit the Corps’ ability to fully dredge the 13 harbors, which can affect freight movement.

The Corps officials stated that they have received about $13.1 million of the $20.6 million needed to fully dredge the 13 ports’ harbors in fiscal year 2016. Some stakeholders told GAO that smaller ports are negatively affected by the Corps’ emphasis on the amount of cargo moved (measured in tons) when making decisions about which harbors to dredge.

Congress has directed the Corps to consider harbors’ significance and to conduct an assessment of harbors’ use and benefits—considering factors beyond tonnage—to inform its allocation of dredging funds.

The Corps officials added that they have not conducted such an assessment due to funding constraints, and raised concerns about the cost-effectiveness of conducting such assessments. However, USACE has developed some tools that may help it assess inland harbors’ significance, use, and benefits.