The Gulf Coast Chapter of the Western Dredge Association (WEDA) joined forces with the the Society of American Military Engineers to host a Gulf Coast industry day November 7 to 9 at the Mobile Convention Center in Mobile, Alabama.
In all, more than 300 people attended, with about half made up of WEDA members and half from the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). It was the first time the two organizations had come together for a joint conference. In fact, it was the first ever WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter meeting in the Alabama port town.
“WEDA is usually in New Orleans, but WEDA thought it would be good to move it around along the Gulf Coast states,” said Nelson Sanchez, assistant chief of operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District and program director for the WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter’s annual meeting. “So last year, WEDA asked the folks in Mobile to help set it up in Mobile. The WEDA meeting conflicted with the annual SAME industry day, and it was then we decided to combine the two in Mobile.”
The group heard from regional Corps districts regarding their dredging programs and contracting opportunities for the coming year. George Rush, dredging project manager for the Corps’ Mobile District, outlined that district’s dredge program, which includes the Mobile Harbor and the Tennessee-Tombigbee and Warrior-Tombigbee Waterways in Alabama; Gulfport and Pascagoula harbors and barrier islands on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway all the way east to the Florida Panhandle.
Rush said he anticipates advertising a hopper dredge contract for Mobile Harbor, which could reach 500,000 to a million cubic yards, in January 2018, with bids opening the following March. Rush also highlighted phase two of a barrier island restoration contract in Mississippi, which will be advertised in February 2018.
Jeff Corbino, environmental resources specialist for the Corps’ New Orleans District, presented the New Orleans area’s fiscal year 2018 dredge schedule, which includes Southwest Pass (hopper and cutterhead dredges) and Baptiste Collette (cutterhead) near the mouth of the Mississippi River; the Houma Navigation Canal through Terrebonne Bay and the Bayou Lafourche Bar Channel in South Louisiana (cutterhead); the harbors and lock forebays in the New Orleans area (cutterhead); Calcasieu River miles 5 to 17, Devil’s Elbow (cutterhead) and the Calcasieu Bar Channel (hopper) in Southwest Louisiana; and the Atchafalaya River Bay and Bar Channel (cutterhead).
Christopher Frabotta, chief of the Corps’ Galveston District’s navigation branch, offered an overview of his district’s budgetary outlook, as well as the district’s dredging schedule. The Galveston District had the lengthiest dredging to-do list, with harbors, tributaries and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway all in need of maintenance.
All three dredging program overview presentations, along with points of contact, are available on the WEDA website. Visit www.westerndredging.org, then click “Regional Chapters” followed by “Gulf Coast Chapter” for more information.
Beyond the much-anticipated dredging program presentations, WEDA and SAME attendees also heard from Jim Walker, director of navigation policy and legislation for American Association of Port Authorities. Walker offered a glimpse of Washington D.C. from a navigation perspective. His organization has identified about $66 billion in port-related infrastructure needs over the next decade, with an eye on the Trump Administration’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan. Walker also overviewed the latest trends with regard to Harbor Maintenance Tax income and expenditures.
There was also a panel discussion between industry and government representatives with open discussion. “It was something new we need to do again in the future to better facilitate concerns and questions from industry with government,” Sanchez said.
A highlight of the final day of the joint WEDA and SAME conference was the attention dedicated to learning about hurricane preparedness, response and recovery. As of early November, more than 550 FEMA personnel were on the ground in Puerto Rico in response to Hurricane Maria, with more than 230 in the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricane Irma. At that time, 21 percent of homes in Puerto Rico had received blue roof repairs, compared to 70 percent in the Virgin Islands. Sixty-two percent of generator installations were complete in Puerto Rico, compared to 93 percent in the Virgin Islands. Also, in Puerto Rico just 3 percent of the estimated 4 million cubic yards of debris had been removed, compared to 15 percent in the Virgin Islands.
Attendees also heard from representatives from the Coast Guard, Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration on responsibilities in response and restoration efforts. With the crowded field of storms in the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the presentations proved quite timely.
The 2018 meeting of the WEDA Gulf Coast Chapter will be back in New Orleans in early November.