Letter of Support Mississippi River Ship Channel Deepening to 50 Feet

The attached letter has been prepared to express support to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Honorable R.D. James, for the Mississippi River Ship Channel Deepening to 50 Feet Project.

My experience with past efforts, has been that it is possible to add entities that did not intend to express support or even to not list someone that did offer their support.

In effort to provide supporters a chance to confirm or deny their support, a 24-hour clock will be used before sending the final letter.

Please review the attached letter and know that the Big River Coalition appreciates your support and commitment to see the Mississippi River Ship Channel deepened.

All supporters will also be copied when the approved letter of support is delivered electronically to Secretary James.

The final letter will be sent with applicable adjustments made to the supporters list, if required, at 1700 hours central time tomorrow, Friday, October 12, 2018.

 

Navigation Support for Deepening the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 Feet

Dear Secretary James,

The Big River Coalition applauds the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) for the recently endorsed Director’s Report for the Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf to Baton Rouge, Louisiana Final Integrated General Reevaluation Report and Supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement. The Coalition has worked directly with both the USACE and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (non-federal sponsor) throughout the process and is dedicated to seeing this historic Ship Channel deepening completed. The Big River Coalition humbly requests your support as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to obtain the federal cost-share from the Civil Works Appropriations Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2019 or to assist in securing funding in the USACE’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget.

The Big River Coalition (BRC) was created in Fiscal Year 2011 in response to the announcement by the Commander of the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Mississippi Valley Division that channel maintenance on the Mississippi River Ship Channel, Gulf to Baton Rouge (Louisiana) would be limited by the dedicated funding (Operations and Maintenance [O&M] budget). Prior to this position change the Mississippi River Ship Channel received preferential treatment and often received additional funding from other USACE projects. After the 1989 grounding of the M/V MARSHAL KONYEV (Pilottown) that virtually closed the Ship Channel to all traffic, the USACE’s Headquarters announced in a position statement that it would maintain the nation’s most critical navigation channel. The BRC originally focused on obtaining additional funding to supplement the shortfall in the Corps’ O&M budget, to strive to establish a legislative firewall around the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and to represent members of the Mississippi River navigation industry in matters related to coastal restoration. As our membership grew and continued to make effective progress on these initiatives, members supported the Coalition’s commitment to actively advocate for the deepening of the Mississippi River Ship Channel Gulf to Baton Rouge to 50 feet.

The Big River Coalition is committed to ensuring the future of navigation on the Mississippi River Ship Channel (MRSC) as one of the nation’s fundamental natural resources and true economic powerhouse. The Mississippi River has an estimated $ 735.7 billion annual impact on the nation’s economy and is responsible for approximately 2.4 million jobs (585,000 jobs on the Lower River – Cairo, IL to the Gulf of Mexico and 1.86 million plus jobs on the Upper River-Lake Itasca, MN to Cairo, IL and including the IL River).

The Coalition strives to maximize the economic efficiencies that promote increased maritime commerce and international trade. The Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Ports Complex (Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines) is a powerhouse in international trade and the nation’s busiest port system. The cargoes moved through these five ports account for nearly 70 percent of the Nation’s grain exports and more than 20 percent of the Nation’s coal and petroleum cargoes. The economic impact of the Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Ports Complex is nationally significant.

The Coalition has also worked closely with the USACE’s Mississippi Valley New Orleans (MVN) office to increase the beneficial use of dredge material in the environmentally sensitive bird’s-foot delta through the utilization of cutterhead dredges as part of the USACE channel maintenance program. The MVN with the assistance of navigation stakeholders resumed utilizing cutterhead dredges in the area of Southwest Pass in 2009. This effort has created land/wetlands equivalent to approximately 7,800 acres in this environmentally sensitive bird’s foot delta by removing sediment from the navigation channel and beneficially utilizing it along the channel edges. The newly created land or wetlands conversely protect the critical navigation channel from storm surge and/or thalweg capture and has received recognition from state and federal government partners for the benefits of creating land in this delicate deltaic region (mainly National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, USACE, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, National Weather Service, Plaquemines Parish and the United States Geological Survey). The Director’s Report highlighted the USACE’s estimate that the beneficial use of dredged material with sediment removed during the MRSC deepening will create nearly 1,500 acres.

SEDIMENT RECYCLING
ACREAGE CREATED THROUGH BENEFICIAL USE:

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Fiscal Year

Southwest Pass

Hopper Dredge Disposal Area

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2009

100 Acres

page2image3709328

2010

67 Acres

466 Acres

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2011

199 Acres

70 Acres

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2012

615 Acres

0 Acres

page2image3713696

2013

612 Acres

851 Acres

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2014

572 Acres

None (Combined for FY 15)

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2015

364 Acres

667 Acres

2016

768 Acres

4 Acres

2017

1,072 Acres

404 Acres

2018

*575 Acres

366 Acres

Total

*4,944 Acres

2,828 Acres

Wetlands restored with sediment from the navigation channel of the Mississippi River Ship Channel are consistent with the goals of the 2017 Louisiana Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan through the Gulf Coast Joint Venture Mississippi River Coastal Wetland Initiate Area, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Wildlife Management Plan. Additionally, the restored wetlands provide habitats that benefit forty-nine Wildlife and Fisheries species identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need identified in the 2015 Louisiana Wildlife Plan which include the federally listed Piping Plover and Red Knot. Many of these wetlands are located on public properties within Delta National Wildlife Refuge and Pass-a-Loutre State Wildlife Management Area which are open to public visitation and enjoyment. Each year in excess of 30,000 public users visit these areas for hunting, fishing, camping, and nature observation. Many of the wetlands they visit are those created with dredged material from the Lower Mississippi River.

The project will provide a draft of 50-feet from the Gulf of Mexico upriver 256 miles to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. In addition, the material dredged from thirty miles of the project near the Mouth of the Mississippi River will be used to create approximately 1,500 acres of new marsh habitat. In accordance with cost-sharing provisions in Section 101 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 the federal share of the project would be $118.1 million, while the estimated non-federal share would be $39.4 million. The current ship channel is maintained to 45 feet. The Corps’ report identified the benefit-to-cost ratio at 7.2 to 1, calling the project one of national and international significance.

The Lower Mississippi River is home to four of the nation’s Top 15 ports by annual tonnage (Port of South Louisiana, Port of New Orleans, Port of Greater Baton Rouge and Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District), moving more than 500 million tons of cargo, including 60 percent of the nation’s grain and is connected to 14,500 miles of inland navigable waterways.

The deepening of the Lower Mississippi River to 50 feet (dredging) offers incredible benefits to the nation:

  • The Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Port Complex is the largest in the U.S. with a deep-draft Ship Channel that is over 250 miles long and offers waterborne access into 31 states and over 12,500 miles of inland waterways. This makes the Mississippi River the second most productive river transportation system in the world (Yangtze River, China is first).
  • The Ship Channel and the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MRT) levee system are symbiotic, there can be no reliable system for navigable waterways without the comprehensive flood control system afforded by the MRT Project (this one project has a B/C ratio of more than 70:1).
  • The Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Ports Complex moves approximately 500 million tons of cargoes each year. The Port of New Orleans ranks among the top ten ports by tonnage and services cruise ships, providing additional contribution to the local economy through tourism revenues. In 2014 for the first time over 1 million cruise passengers were arrived through the Port of New Orleans, the financial impact of the additional tourism dollars is in the tens of millions.
  • The Port of South Louisiana alone shipped over 300 million tons of cargo in 2017, making it the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere.
  • Bulk grain vessels with a draft of 50 feet would carry approximately 12,000 metric tons of additional soybeans cargo (440,000 bushels) representing an estimated value of $3.6 million per vessel.
  • The Soy Transportation Coalition and Informa Economics, Inc. estimate the larger, more efficient Capesize vessels (120,000 metric tons) ships, could reduce the cost of the movement of grains by upwards of $20 per metric ton due to being able to transport more soy cargo per vessel. The per bushel costs savings ranged from 13 to 20 cents depending on the proximity to barge accessibility. The same study identified a draw area, a metric related to the distance from the Mississippi River and Tributaries to the point of waterborne or barge commerce being cheaper than truck or rail shipments, the existing draw area is 150 miles. The draw area is projected to increase to 247 miles and could capture up to 82 percent of U.S. soybean exports.
  • The Big River Coalition estimates that there are $40 billion in new investments for proposed facilities already in various stages of development within the Lower Mississippi River Deep-Draft Ports Complex. These investments and the creation of new jobs are not included in the Corps’ projections that led to the strong benefit cost ratio of 7.2 to 1.
  • The deepening of 65 miles of the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet will connect 254 miles of the waterway by connecting areas that are naturally deeper than 50 feet (Baton Rouge to the Gulf of Mexico). The first phase of the deepening to 50 feet will utilize dredges to deepen 33 river miles between the Gulf of Mexico and Venice (LA) and connect the first 175 miles of the Ship Channel to a depth of 50 feet or more. Phase two requires the deepening of approximately 32 river miles to add over 80 miles of Ship Channel at 50 feet.

    The Mississippi River Ship Channel deepening project has been a vital infrastructure project for the Big River Coalition since we revitalized the effort with our colleagues at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in 2011. The channel deepening would generate commerce, stimulate coastal restoration and enhance the water carrying capacity of the gateway to the center of our nation: The Lower Mississippi River. The multiple benefits include substantive transportation cost-savings to those engaged in international commerce along the Mighty Mississippi, including shippers and producers of agricultural and bulk cargoes, job creation throughout the nation’s interior, and increased flood protection of homes, businesses, and farm lands.