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WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter Hosts Annual Meeting in New Orleans

Tim Osborn, navigation manager for NOAA’s Central Gulf Region’s Office of Coast Survey.

Tim Osborn, navigation manager for NOAA’s Central Gulf Region’s Office of Coast Survey.

The Western Dredging Association’s Gulf Coast Chapter (WEDA) held its annual meeting November 19 at the Marriot AC Hotel in downtown New Orleans. The one-day seminar, which attracted about 130 registrants, featured speakers that included U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials, coastal restoration leaders, a port director and even a Louisiana gubernatorial candidate.

The meeting coincided with the Corps of Engineers officials from districts across the Gulf Coast announcing their fiscal year 2016 dredging schedules.

Ram Mohan, chairman and president of the WEDA board of directors, addressed the chapter and challenged members to actively recruit a new generation of dredging professionals to participate in WEDA, whether through improved participation from within the industry or by partnering with university students. Doing so is crucial to transferring “our knowledge from our generation to the next,” Mohan said.

Mohan also overviewed the rich history of dredging both in the New Orleans area and throughout the Gulf Coast region.

Christopher Frabotta, deputy chief of operations division and chief of navigation branch for USACE Galveston District.

“There’s a rich history of dredging no matter where you look in the city—a lot of pioneering work,” Mohan said. “If you look at where we were in dredging in the past, you have districts like New Orleans, Mobile and Galveston leading the way in terms of innovation.”

Now with the past decade of hurricanes, subsidence and relative sea level rise, Mohan said, the dredging industry has continued to lead and innovate along America’s Third Coast.

“We have not only transitioned our dredging and standard placement methods now to more creative and innovative solutions,” he said. “We call it different names—“engineering of nature” or “beneficial use” or even “living shoreline.” No matter what, it’s using the material as a resource. And this part of the country has certainly done some very pioneering work, and I hope you continue to do that.”

UPCOMING DREDGING OPPORTUNITIES

Brad Miller, project manager with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), addressed the chapter, focusing specifically on how CPRA plans to beneficially use dredging material as part of the state’s master plan for restoring Louisiana’s vanishing coast.

Some recent dredging projects CPRA has completed, Miller said, include Scofield Island, Pelican Island, Shell Island East, the West Belle Pass Barrier Headland Restoration, shoreline restoration in Cameron Parish, restoration of Caminada Headland beach and dune, along with a few marsh creation projects around the state. Projects ranged from 800,000 cubic yards of material to more than 6 million cubic yards.

U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) addressed WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter members in one of his last campaign stops as a candidate in Louisiana’s governor race. Vitter lost to State Representative John Bel Edwards.

CPRA projects in the works for fiscal year 2016 include shoreline and marsh restoration on the south shore of Lake Lery, the second portion of the Caminada Headland beach and dune restoration, Shell Island West, Caillou Lake Headlands restoration, and a couple mitigation projects funded through the Corps. And while there are a lot of state projects either already underway or completed, there are many more on the horizon.

“Don’t worry, dredgers. There’s a lot of work left to be done,” Miller said.

According to Miller, CPRA projects with bids to be opened or to be advertised in 2016 include: Bayou Bonfouca Marsh Creation (PO-0104), South Grand Chenier Marsh Creation (ME-20), Cameron Creole Grand Bayou Marsh Creation (CS-54), Oyster Bayou Marsh Restoration (CS-59) and HSDRRS Lake Pontchartrain and Vicinity Mitigation–Turtle Bayou (LPV-EVM-10).

Donald Mayer, chief of navigation section for the Corps Memphis District, opened the Corps’ presentation of fiscal year 2016 dredging contracts. Mayer said the Memphis District will seek to lease a cutterhead dredge to perform maintenance dredging of Mississippi River harbors in the district from mile 922 to mile 652 and a dustpan dredge to operate on the Mississippi River. Contracts will be for one year and 18 months, respectively, and will be solicited in February 2016. Mayer also announced a contract within the Vicksburg District for FY16 for a cutterhead dredge to maintain the Mississippi River harbors and on the Red, Ouachita and Black rivers. Solicitation for that project will come in February or March 2016.

Christopher Frabotta, deputy chief of operations division and chief of navigation branch for the Corps Galveston District, then presented scheduled contracts in his area for 2016 and planned contracts for fiscal year 2017. Frabotta said his district anticipates close to $132 million in navigation operation and maintenance funding for FY16. Projects anticipated for FY16 and FY17 stretch from Port Arthur and the Sabine River to the Brownsville Ship Channel.

George Rush, project manager for the Corps Mobile District, offered a detailed overview of the waterways, harbors, channels and locks in his district, along with upcoming dredging contracts for the area. Bids will be opened December 16 on a contract for a hopper dredge to work in Mobile Harbor and Mobile River, with work to commence in January 2016. A second contract, totaling $8 million, for similar work will be advertised in April 2016. Rush said he anticipates pipeline dredge work commencing in both Pascagoula and Gulfport as well. Mobile District will advertise a contract to maintain the channel on the Black Warrior-Tombigbee and Tennessee-Tombigbee waterways beginning February 17, 2016, with bids opened one month later. Rush said he also hopes to put a pipeline/hopper dredge contract for Port St. Joe, Florida, out to bid in late 2016, with funding identified. He also overviewed the Mississippi Barrier Island Restoration project just offshore of Gulfport, with the contract possibly advertised in May 2016. That project will reconnect the two ends of Ship Island.

Michelle Kornick, operations manager for the Corps New Orleans District, then outlined the district’s FY16 dredging schedule, which centers on Southwest Pass and the New Orleans Harbor and forebays at the Algiers, Harvey and Inner Harbor Navigation Canal locks. Those areas were last dredged in 2015. Tracy Falk, operations manager with the Corps New Orleans District, outlined upcoming dredging on the Calcasieu River in Southwest Louisiana, with Yojna Calix, acting operations manager, presenting the dredging schedule for the Lower Atchafalaya River. Ray Newman, operations manager, described upcoming dredging projects on the Houma Navigation Canal and Baptiste Collette.

Full details, including project numbers and Corps’ contacts, are available on the WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter’s website (www.westerndredging.org, Regional Chapters tab).

Mac Wade, executive director of the Port of  Morgan City, Louisiana, later described his port’s efforts to maintain the Atchafalaya Bar Channel, which suffers from rapid silting due to river “fluff.” Wade said he hopes to implement a “demo dredging project” in 2016, which will provide a path toward sustainability and reliability of the channel.

VITTER SPEAKS TO CHAPTER

U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) addressed WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter members in one of his last campaign stops as a candidate in Louisiana’s governor race. Vitter lost to State Representative John Bel Edwards, who was sworn in as Louisiana’s governor January 11, 2016. In his speech to WEDA members, Vitter, who played a key role in the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, discussed Louisiana’s efforts to restore its coast, federal funding for dredging projects and the need for increased beneficial use of dredged materials. He also called on state and federal agencies to work together to more efficiently and quickly move infrastructure projects from start to finish.

GROWTH, OUTLOOK FOR WEDA GULF COAST CHAPTER

WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter President Charlie Johnson described to members how for several years the chapter was trending in the wrong direction. Just 72 members attended the 2014 meeting, which put the chapter on track to have 62 in attendance in 2015. Part of that trend, Johnson said, was that for several years the chapter meeting and the Corps’ presentation of its next year’s dredging schedule would be on different days in different locations.

“I really wanted to work with the Corps to coordinate that together to make it easier on the members. I also think it’s good for the Corps too,” Johnson said. “It really made a difference on the attendance.”

Johnson said the organization has a good standing financially, with increased sponsorship this year. That firm financial footing is a key launching point for a successful meeting in 2016. Chapter leadership along with members also plan to begin rotating annual meetings between Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, with a focus on engaging new members and leaders from those regions. The 2016 annual meeting is planned to take place in the Houston/Galveston area, with more details to come.

“Hopefully what’s going to happen in this is we’re going to breathe some new spirit into the chapter,” Johnson said. “Hopefully the result of that will be increased attendance and bigger venues.”

Johnson said he also hopes to see facility tours as part of chapter meetings and family events. Also with more sponsorship, he sees the WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter engaging in more community outreach, with a focus on education and advocacy.

“I think this chapter and organization can do some very positive things, public education certainly one of them,” he said. Johnson was sure to point out the geographic area included in the chapter, which stretches from the Florida Keys to Brownsville, Texas, and includes Western Georgia. Johnson anticipates greater participation and leadership from throughout the chapter.

“I’m really excited about the possibilities and the people in other areas being excited about taking the reins,” he said. “I’m excited about bring all those folks together and building the organization. I’m really optimistic about what this chapter will become.”

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