Congress may consider a bill to deepen the Mississippi River to 50 feet so that larger post-Panamax vessels transiting the expanded Panama Canal after 2014 will be able to access the river and the Port of New Orleans.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., introduced the bill, the DREDGE Act of 2012-Dredging for Restoration and Economic Development for Global Exports. It would give the Army Corps of Engineers authorization to dredge the river and also creates a pilot project to promote the rebuilding of wetlands using existing sediment dredged from the river.
The Port of New Orleans is normally 47 feet deep and 450 feet wide, but the accumulation of sediment can constrict its depth and size. Last year, the port’s depth and width were 42 feet deep and 150 feet wide for months, according to Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the port, who has been pushing for more federal spending to deepen it.
In addition to deepening the Mississippi River, the DREDGE Act of 2012 calls for greater accountability concerning sediment disposal from dredging. This legislation directs the corps to install a pump-out site in the Southwest Pass so that the sediment is no longer wasted and is instead used to rebuild wetlands.
The Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Audubon Society issued a statement supporting the bill’s proposal to use dredged materials to rebuild wetlands.
Rep. Richmond’s office said roughly 60 percent of all U.S. grain exports are shipped via the Lower Mississippi and more than 20 percent of all U.S. waterborne commerce passes through the Lower Mississippi River. Current cargo activity within the Port of New Orleans alone generates $2.8 billion in federal taxes each year.