Jacques B. Michell, president of the Associated Branch Pilots, is the 1987 recipient of the C. Alvin Bertel Award, one of the most prestigious honors for the maritime community in the New Orleans area.

The award honors an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the port area in the previous year.Only one other nomination was submitted, New Orleans Port President J. Ron Brinson. Mr. Brinson did not attend the award ceremony Friday because of a scheduling conflict. But several port officials attended the ceremony along with a virtual who's who in the maritime community on the lower Mississippi River.

Ralph Rugan, chairman of the Ports Activity Committee, who took part in the presentation, said Mr. Michell was selected because of his association's role in increasing the competitiveness of the greater New Orleans port area in 1987.

Mr. Rugan said the maritime community saw tangible results from Mr. Michell's efforts as leader of the pilots association, particularly in ensuring that the maximum effective draft possible is maintained at Southwest Pass.

The association, commonly referred to as the bar pilots, represents pilots who guide vessels roughly 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico through Southwest Pass to Pilottown on the Mississippi River.

The pilots set the controlling draft - or depth to which a vessel can be safely loaded and maneuvered - on the Mississippi River.

The selection committee commended Mr. Michell for the success his group had in allowing vessels to load considerably in excess of the project depths announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Southwest Pass, which is where the river widens and silt begins to settle making navigation difficult.

For most of 1987, the project depth according the corps was 40 feet for vessels over 100,000 deadweight tons, but because of the pilots' skill the

draft was set higher allowing vessels to load more cargo. Bulk cargoes like grain, coal and chemicals dominate movements on the lower Mississippi.

Conservative estimates are that the additional revenues afforded vessels loading above 40 feet in draft exceeded $13.5 million in 1987, the selection committee said.

The committee, made up of representatives from 11 maritime, trade and government entities, noted a 1981 corps statement that project depth should not be viewed as an authorization or recommendation for draft. The corps said mariners may take advantage of high tides, head water flows and naturally deep channels to sail with drafts exceeding project depth.

The increase in draft to 44 feet took place last September before dredging to 45 feet was completed. The draft now is set at 44 feet for vessels over 100,000 deadweight tons.