The Army Corps of Engineers will begin clearing a chokepoint at the mouth of the Mississippi River that has restricted cargo shipments from the Midwest since last spring.
The corps will get an additional $55 million from a disaster relief bill to dredge the river between New Orleans and the Gulf to its authorized 45-foot depth and 750-foot width, the Port of New Orleans said Thursday. The project is part of the corps’ overall maintenance dredging budget of $1.72 billion.
Port officials said that the river has never fully recovered from the effect of massive flooding in the Midwest that scoured some 19.6 million square feet of topsoil and dumped them at the mouth of the river. The reduction in vessel draft to 46 feet forced ships to carry less cargo and cost carriers nearly $600,000 per trip.
While the river depth improved later in the year, the Branch Pilots Association, whose members guide many of the 6,000 vessels moving in and out of the river’s mouth each year, imposed a 42-foot limit earlier this week after a vessel carrying coal ran aground. Normally some 450 million tons of cargo worth $114 billion go into international commerce by way of the Mississippi River, including two-thirds of the nation’s export wheat.
Last year the port and maritime industry in the New Orleans region protested bitterly after the corps reduced maintenance dredging to $72.6 million, down from an average of $104 million per year. The additional funds will be added to the corps’ allocation.