Port of Morgan City reopens; dredging set to resume


The Coast Guard on Wednesday reopened waterways in and around the Port of Morgan City, including the Atchafalaya and the Bayou Chene, from Amelia to the west.

Waterways east of Amelia remain closed because of Hurricane Ida, port Executive Director Raymond "Mac" Wade said Wednesday.

The U.S. Corps of Engineers also gave the OK for dredging to resume once crew members have been rounded up after operations
were suspended.

Now officials will survey the local waterways to see if Ida's unexpectedly meek impact here might have undone some of the dredging work done so far, at a cost to the Corps in the millions.

Wade said a survey boat from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will provide that information.

He remembers Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Harvey was a Category 4 storm that came ashore Aug. 27 near Port Aransas, Texas, 180 miles southeast of San Antonio, according to the National Hurricane Center.

But "I lost 5 feet of depth" due to the storm's impact, Wade's said.

Ida's damage in St. Mary fell far short of the catastrophic tidal surge in the forecast before Saturday afternoon's shift in the hurricane's predicted track. The Atchafalaya River at Morgan City rose only as high as 3.43 feet after Ida came ashore Sunday near Port Fourchon, according to the National Weather Service. The forecast had been for 6.5 feet, half a foot above the minor flood stage.

But "that doesn't mean it wasn't working the tides and moving the sand around," Wade said.

A series of events since 2015, including Harvey and Mississippi River floods diverted into the Atchafalaya, have clogged portions of commercially important waterways with sediment The use of the Port of Morgan City's facilities by large cargo vessels virtually stopped six years ago.

Port officials have been working to restore the channel to its authorized dimensions of 400 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

That work moved ahead in fits and starts as funding became unavailable until last month, when it became clear that four dredges will be in operation on the port's waterways for the first time ever.

The dredges are expected to resume work this week are the Brice Civil Constructors dredge, which has been removing fluff mud from the bar channel between Eugene Island and the sea buoy. A Manson Construction dredge will also begin work again in the bar channel.

Closer to Eugene Island, a Great Lakes Dredge & Dock dredge is set to return to work.

In two to three weeks, those efforts will be joined by a Weeks Marine dredge to clear sediment from Berwick Harbor, Wade said.

That raises hopes that the Port of Morgan City will again be able to serve as a transshipment point for cargo carried by large vessels.

In a visit to the port this summer, U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., pointed to a recent appropriation for dredging in the bar channel and said he's confident the port can attract business from exporters of Louisiana rice.