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WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter Meets in Galveston for Annual Conference

The Western Dredge Association (WEDA) Gulf Coast Chapter held its annual meeting November 14 to 16 at the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas. In addition to presentations related to the dredging industry at large, attendees heard presentations by representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston, New Orleans and Mobile Districts regarding planned dredge schedules for 2017.

This marked the first time the chapter has met outside New Orleans, after approving a plan at its November 2015 meeting to rotate annually between New Orleans, Galveston and Mo-bile, Alabama. The move to Galveston proved quite successful: Attendance stood at a record 185 for the three-day conference, up from 130 a year ago.

“This is the first time ever we’ve had this event out of New Orleans,” said Maxi McGuire, 2016 president of the WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter, speaking at the conference’s November 15 opening session. “I’d like to give credit to [2015 chapter president] Charlie Johnson and last year’s board for pushing to expand our geography and get more people involved.”

McGuire recognized Chris Frabotta, chief of the navigation branch of the Corps of Engineers Galveston District, who served as de facto emcee for the conference and was instrumental in planning and executing the Galveston-based meeting.

FOCUS ON GALVESTON DISTRICT

Attendees first heard from Col. Lars Zetter-strom, commander of the Corps of Engineers Galveston District, who praised WEDA for coming to Galveston while also highlighting his district’s contribution to the maritime and dredging industries.

“This is an amazing event,” Zetterstrom said. “The Galveston District is very proud to be co-hosting the WEDA conference here in Galveston. … I look forward to the rotation that will ensue among our sister districts along the Gulf Coast.”

Zetterstrom highlighted the ports and water-ways that fall within the domain of the Galveston District, specifically focusing on channel depths and flood protection plans. Based on 2014 tonnage stats, the Galveston District covers five of the top 20 ports in the country, including the Port of Houston at number 2, the Port of Beaumont at number 4 and the Port of Corpus Christi at number 6. Ports along the Texas Gulf Coast range in depth from 38 feet to 47 feet, but efforts are underway to deepen many of them. The 2014 Water Resources Reform and Development Act authorized the Brazos Island Harbor to go from 42 feet to 52 feet, the Matagorda Ship Channel to just from 38 feet to 45 feet, and the Houston-Galveston Navigation Channel to go from 46 feet to 50 feet. Studies are also underway to determine the feasibility of deepening the Corpus Christi Ship Channel, the Port of Freeport channel, and the Sabine-Neches Waterway.

“I’ve been in command a little more than four months and I’ve traveled the coast and been to every port,” Zetterstrom said, later adding, “Every port I’ve met with has a vision for the future.”

Zetterstrom also overviewed plans through-out the Texas coast to enhance flood risk management.

“You can’t have a future if you’re not con-ducting planning today,” Zetterstrom said, in reference to the Corps conducting studies for future flood protection projects. 

The Galveston District is in the midst of flood protection studies covering Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay and the comprehensive Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Study. Retired Major General Kenneth Wisian, senior deputy director of coastal protection for the Texas General Land Office, discussed the latter study at a dinner gathering later that night.

CORPS DREDGE SCHEDULES

Representatives from the three Gulf Coast Corps districts offered attendees their fiscal year budget outlooks and planned dredging schedules for 2017.

The Galveston District anticipates just more than $121 million in fiscal year 2017 for navigation operation and management. That’s down from about $173 million available for obligation in fiscal year 2016. Projects anticipated in the Galveston District include:

• Sabine-Neches Waterway/Neches River, an estimated 600,000 cubic yards to be dredged, April to August 2017;

• Sabine-Neches Waterway PA-11 Shore-line Stabilization, September 2017 to March 2018;

• Houston Ship Channel from Sims Bayou to the turning basin, an estimated 500,000 cubic yards to be dredged, February to November 2017;

• Texas City Channel and Turning Basin, 1.4 million cubic yards to be dredged, March to September 2017;

• Galveston Entrance Channel and Houston Ship Channel, Bolivar Roads to Redfish, 2.5 million cubic yards, March 2017 to September 2017;

• Freeport Harbor and Matagorda Entrance Channels, 3 million cubic yards to be dredged, July to December 2017;

• Brazos Island Harbor Jetty Channel, 500,000 cubic yards to be dredged, October 2017 to January 2018;

• Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Turnstake to Live Oak, 600,000 cubic yards to be dredged, June to October 2017;

• Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from High Is-land to Rollover Pass and Bolivar Flare, 800,000 cubic yards to be dredge, October 2017 to Febru-ary 2018;

• Channel to Harlingen, 600,000 cubic yards to be dredged, October 2017 to January 2018.

There are also numerous dewatering and dike raise projects anticipated within the Galveston District.

The New Orleans District also has upcoming dredging projects on the Mississippi River from Southwest Pass up to New Orleans, on the Atchafalaya River, in Houma and central Louisiana and along the Calcasieu River at the western end of the state.

Dredging in the vicinity of Southwest Pass averages 17.5 million cubic yards annually, while dredging the locks and harbor approaches in the New Orleans area ranges from 100,000 to 500,000 cubic yards annually. The Houma Navigation Canal in Terrebonne Bay averages about 150,000 cubic yards annually, as does the Bayou Lafourche Bar Channel. The New Orleans District anticipates about 1.2 million cubic yards dredged within the Atchafalaya Basin and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near Morgan City, Louisiana. The Atchafalaya River Bay and Bar Channel will require about 3 million cubic yards dredged in 2017. The Calcasieu River will re-quire about 4.5 million cubic yards dredged to bring the channel to 40 feet deep and 400 feet wide.

The Mobile District will oversee dredging activities along several portions of the Mobile Harbor in fiscal year 2017 ranging from 500,000 cubic yards up to 3 million cubic yards. The Gulfport, Mississippi, Channel will require 1 to 2 million cubic yards dredged in late 2017, as will channels and basins surrounding Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Tennessee-Tombigbee and Warrior-Tombigbee waterways will require 1 million cubic yards dredge between June and October 2017.

The Mobile District is also in the midst of efforts to restore Cat Island and Ship Island, barrier islands off the coast of Harrison County, Mississippi.

RESTORE ACT PROMISES YEARS OF DREDGING OPPORTUNITIES

Besides the presentations regarding products, projects and innovations, attendees heard from Heather Young with the RESTORE Council on what to expect from projects stemming from the Gulf states’ and the federal government’s settlements following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Young acknowledged that, with an audience of maritime industry leaders from the Gulf Coast, no introduction was needed with regard to the massive 2010 disaster.

“I think you all are probably tragically familiar with the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, and many of you were likely involved in the response, with the cleanup efforts, or just touched by that tragedy right after it happened, today or into the future,” Young said.

Even though the oil spill came to an end more than six years ago, effects linger and projects mitigating and restoring the Gulf ecosystem will carry on, by some estimates, 15 to 20 years into the future. Clean Water Act penalties alone stemming from the spill have totaled $6.7 billion, of which 80 percent was placed in the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The RESTORE Council oversees projects funded from that trust.

The first round of projects approved and funded through the RESTORE Act restored more than 200,000 acres along the Gulf Coast, conserved more than 18,000 acres, plugged 11 abandoned oil and gas wells and backfilled 16.5 miles of oil and gas canals.

In 2017, the council plans to tackle the next set of projects and review and issue grants for state-directed projects.

Young said the initial contribution to the trust fund along with interest generated each year will mean states, organizations and businesses will be busy doing restoration work tied to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill for years to come.

The agenda from the 2016 WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter meeting, including a full list of speakers, and presentations from the conference are all available on the organization’s website. Go to www.westerndredging.org and click “Gulf Coast Chapter” under the Regional Chapters tab. 

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