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Lands End: Corps Makes a Stand at Venice: Rebuilding is vital to keep Mississippi River ports open

Artist’s rendering of the new Venice sub-office building. The offices will be at an elevation of 22 feet.

Artist’s rendering of the new Venice sub-office building. The offices will be at an elevation of 22 feet.

For years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operated a sub-office in Venice – where the highway, levee and land end before the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Sad to say, on Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina forced the red brick, one-story office to live up to its name. The Gulf of Mexico invaded Venice and submerged it under 11.9 feet of sea water.

Nevertheless, navigation at the Big River’s mouth is of global importance. So the Corps will open a rebuilt Venice Sub-Office late in 2007. The taller, white structure will look nothing like its predecessor.

“We’re making a stand at Venice, because we have no choice. We must keep open America’s largest port complex, Baton Rouge to the Gulf,” said Col. Richard Wagenaar, commander of the New Orleans District.

“The mouth of a great river presents the greatest problems of shoaling from sediment build-up. Sand, silt and clay drop out at land’s end like passengers jumping off at the end of a streetcar line,” Wagenaar said.

This mega-port has four of the top 13 U.S. ports located shoulder to shoulder, Baton Rouge; South Louisiana, headquartered at LaPlace; New Orleans, and Plaquemines Parish. The majority of U.S. grain and billions of dollars of chemicals go abroad through the complex, along with great volumes of coal. And it receives the largest U.S. imports of steel, green coffee and natural rubber.

“Venice is the key base of operations for our work to keep the mouth of the Mississippi open to commerce. It’s the biggest navigation job in the Corps of Engineers, to maintain the 45-foot channel,” said Fred Schilling, a Corps branch chief in New Orleans.

“Here we supervise the surveys and the sonar boats that determine depths and safety of the river’s mouth and adjacent channels. Here we supervise all of the marine construction needed, such as dredging and maintaining structures such as pile dikes, rock jetties and foreshore protection,” Schilling said.

The new Venice Sub-Office will be more muscular: pre-cast reinforced concrete walls, floors and roof with cast-in-place pile supported foundation. The office will be at an elevation of 22 feet.

“The sub-office is being built to have the survivability to function as an Emergency Operations Center if the need arises. We are building for a structure with the strength to ride out a major hurricane,” said Dean Arnold, the project engineer who put together the design-build technical specifications.

The real “ground floor will be for parking, storage and equipment,” Arnold said. At 4,200 square feet, the new office will provide the space necessary for the team to perform its duties.

A design-and-build contract for $6.05 million was awarded to RES Contractors L.L.C. of Pierre Part, Louisiana. Completion is expected before year-end 2007.

Corps employees who work in the Venice office must be near the survey boats that gather channel-bottom data to update navigation charts, and the dredges that gather channel-bottom sediment to restore channel depth, said Bobby Chartier, the chief of the Corps survey team at Venice.

“Time is important,” Chartier said. “We are a crucial link in assuring that the updated hydrographic survey data quickly reaches the maritime community and our web site to help commerce flow safely to and from these great ports.”

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