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Corps to Study Lower Mississippi River Deepening Project

Serious consideration is being given to deepening the lower Mississippi River to keep southern ports competitive once the Panama Canal deepening project – regarded by the shipping industry as a game changer – is completed in 2016.

Bob Anderson, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi River Valley Division, based in Vicksburg, Mississippi, said a feasibility and economic justification study regarding the proposed deepening project is underway, with completion expected in 2018.

Experts are analyzing the pros an cons of deepening the river between Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico – about 234 miles. The shipping channel is naturally as deep as 50 feet in most places, Anderson said, so the dredging will not need to take place in all locations. Specifically, dredging to 50 feet is expected to be necessary at the crossings, which include bridge and ferry areas, in certain harbors and in the lower portion of the river in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

If the study determines the channel deepening project is economically justified, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee the project is a go, Anderson said, because it would need to compete against the Corps’ other deep draft navigation projects for construction funds.

The Army Corps of Engineers three public scoping meetings on the project in Louisiana between May 26 and May 28, in Belle Chasse, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In 2013, the Big River Coalition, an advocacy group for improving Mississippi River navigation, released a study conducted by economist Tim Ryan.

Much of the commodities and goods produced in the heartland of the U.S. are brought to the world markets via the Mississippi River and Tributaries (MRT). The report estimated the benefit/cost ratio involved in deepening the Lower Mississippi River and said the estimated costs of the dredging would be $300 million, with an annual increase in on-going channel maintenance of $90 million per year.

According to the study, a deeper river would create $11.5 billion in benefits from lower exporting costs and lower costs importing oil. It would also create 16,911 jobs and $849.5 million in income for American workers.

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