What’s New: Work Begins to Deepen the Mississippi River Channel

Dredging efforts will increase capacity for waterborne commerce
Whatsnew Ms River Deepening Signing Ceremony 1

Following ongoing conversations about the need for increased maritime infrastructure in South Louisiana, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has officially begun the process of deepening the lower Mississippi River Channel.

Governor John Bel Edwards authorized an agreement for the project with USACE in late July, alongside Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn D. Wilson. More than 256 miles of the lower Mississippi River between the Gulf of Mexico and the Port of Baton Rouge will be deepened to approximately 50 feet, allowing deep draft access to more ports along the River and increasing cargo capacity by allowing heavier loads and passage for larger vessels.

Phase 1 of the deepening project, which is currently underway, will encompass the jurisdictions of the Port of New Orleans, St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District and the majority of the Port of South Louisiana. Three dredges will create a 50-foot channel from the Gulf of Mexico through Southwest Pass to Belmont Crossing during this initial phase.

Efforts to approve the deepening of the Mississippi River have been ongoing for years, but in light of the repercussions of COVID-19, enhancing the River’s capacity for commerce stands to play a critical role in reinvigorating the economy at state and national

levels. Paul Aucoin, Port of South Louisiana Executive Director, and Sean Duffy, Executive Director of the Big River Coalition, authored a joint op-ed in June in which they called upon Congress and the Trump Administration to prioritize advancement of maritime infrastructure as part of any national relief strategies.

Gov. Edwards’ announcement and the commencement of the project serve as crucial first steps to expanding global markets for the farming, industrial and maritime industries that depend on the efficiency of the Mississippi’s waterways.

“The Big River Coalition revitalized efforts to deepen the Mississippi River Ship Channel to 50 feet in August 2012,” said Sean Duffy in a press release. “The project will promote the economic advantages of waterborne commerce to shippers by extending the draw area for shipping down this economic superhighway. The deepened channel will offer increased cost savings to shippers and help the U.S. compete in world markets, enhance the system’s water carrying capacity and increase the flood protection of businesses, farms and homes. A deeper channel will create thousands of jobs and restore 1,500 acres of wetlands in the environmentally sensitive birds’-foot delta.”

Paul Aucoin says that it was important for the Port of South Louisiana to help position the Mississippi River as an economic powerhouse on a national level, as commerce along the River has an annual impact of approximately $735 billion on the nation’s economy.

“The Port of South Louisiana and Big River Coalition lobbied constantly with congressional leaders and at every opportunity mentioned the need for the deepening of the Mississippi River as a USA project, not just a Louisiana project,” he says. “Maritime investment means more cargo, and more cargo means more jobs. As a result of being more reliable and more competitive with the deepening of the Mississippi River, we look forward to more industry locating in our Port district.”