The Daily Review/Bill Decker
Members of the Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District board showed their support for LSU by wearing purple shirts to Monday's meeting.
Port: Good news about mud, but not about money
Monday’s Morgan City Harbor and Terminal District board meeting began about two hours before the LSU-Clemson championship football game. The meeting had a pre-game feel.
Most of the board and staff members wore purple shirts to support LSU. Chairman Joseph Cain turned the gavel over to Vice Chairman Lee Dragna, who joked that he wanted to make sure the meeting ended in time for the game.
But there was business to do, and the meeting last a little over an hour as usual. And like a football team, the board learned that it wins some and loses some.
The wins include the operation of a new kind of dredging vessel deployed by Brice Civil Constructors Inc. to remove “fluff,” a gooey mud that fouls some boat propulsion systems, from the Bar Channel. The channel is the portion of the local waterway system far south of the Morgan City-Berwick bridges and near Eugene Island.
The board’s battle against fluff is chronicled in Daily Review stories that go back at least as far as 2007. The latest weapon is a contract with Alaska-based Brice, which has a vessel designed to agitate the mud and remove it. At one point, Tim Connell of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called it a “science experiment.”
The contract is nominally for $14 million with a cap of $21 million.
The operation had been plagued by mechanical problems for months. Brice President Jon McVay continued to tell the board that the company would continue to make the project work.
On Monday, McVay told the board that the percentage of time the vessel can operate has been 87% since Jan. 1, up from 55% in December.
“We’re doing a real good job when we’re up,” McVay said.
The vessel is handling 3.8 million gallons of water a day and has now processed 1.6 billion gallons of mud.
Also, the board learned that the U.S. Army Corps dredging vessel Jadwin is headed this way. The Jadwin will work in the area to the south of the bridges.
The daily cost to operate the Jadwin runs into six figures, but the board is catching the vessel on its way from other work, so the board will pay for the time it operates here and not for the transit time.
The Jadwin is one of three Corps dustpan dredges. Fifty people live and work on the vessel when it’s operating, the Corps says on its website.
The Jadwin dredged more than 4 million cubic yards of sand, mud and sediment from the lower Mississippi River system during the 2019 season, the Corps said.
The news wasn’t as good about other aspects of the relationship with the federal government.
The board learned that the official word from the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that its request for more than $30 million is not included in a supplemental federal appropriation.
The board sought the money for operation and maintenance work on Bayou Chene and the Atchafalaya River.
The port continues to struggle in some waterways with the shoaling created by last year’s flooding.
And more high water is on the way.
The current forecast for the Atchafalaya to reach 5.8 feet Feb. 2 at Morgan City. Minor flooding occurs at 6 feet, and moderate flooding begins at 7 feet.
On Thursday, the Corps activated the first phase of flood fight procedures after the Mississippi reached the 11-foot flood stage at the Carrollton gauge in New Orleans. The first phase includes inspection patrols along the levees south of Baton Rouge.
The National Weather Service has predicted that the Mississippi will reach flood stage at Natchez, Greenville and Vicksburg this month.
A high water meeting for area officials is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 28 at the Emergency Operations Center.