The Big River Coalition requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) study the possibility of extending the deepened channel (50 feet) from the present upriver extent at Smoke Bend of Mile 175 Above Head of Passes (AHP) to Mile 180 AHP. This request was made for several reasons, including that the deeper channel would capture additional facilities able to utilize the 50-foot channel and that there were no pipeline concerns in this five-mile reach. The USACE had previously acknowledged that deepening this reach would only require a small amount of dredging – one shoal estimated to be less than 30,000 cubic yards. The USACE hosted a meeting on September 6, 2023, to review this request with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), New Orleans Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Association, the Federal Pilots and Docking Masters of Louisiana and the Big River Coalition.

The USACE wanted to verify that the Pilot Associations would be able to navigate this five-mile stretch that includes 81-Mile Point without requiring the installation of any new aids to navigation. The Pilot Associations agreed that the deepened channel through this area would not require any adjustments to aids to navigation. The Pilots requested increased channel surveys of this area when the channel is deepened.

The following notes were prepared by the Big River Coalition and were verified as accurate by the USACE and USCG:

  1. As there are currently no channel alignment navigation aids at the 81-mile point location, and USACE, on occasion, has had to dredge the 45’ project in this reach of the river in the past as part of its Operations & Maintenance (O&M) program, approval was given for USACE to proceed with deepening the river at 81-Mile Point.  There is no timeline for when the dredging to deepen this reach of the Ship Channel to 50 feet will be performed but it is expected to occur during low water season and following the completion of required O&M channel maintenance dredging in Fiscal Year 2024.
  1. After the Ship Channel is deepened to 50 feet to Mile 180 AHP, the O&M dredging of the new 50-foot project can proceed without the need to establish any additional navigation aids.
  1. In the future, if the need should arise for navigation aids at 81-mile point, this will be addressed by the USACE and USCG.
  1. The pilots requested that the USACE perform routine channel surveys of the reach at 81-mile point when this reach is deepened.

The deepening above Mile 180 AHP will require the removal of multiple pipelines and the installation or adjustment to aids to navigation by the USCG.