Mississippi River deepening study underway

Five feet of water doesn’t sound like a lot; however, when we are speaking about shipping, it could mean the difference between making and losing money.

In 1985, Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized a deepening study for the Mississippi River to deepen it from its then 40 feet minimum draft to 55 feet. Work progressed through the years to a 45-foot minimum draft, but never went deeper.

Now, as the Panama Canal expands and deepens its locks to 50 feet, every port in the Northern Hemisphere is trying to reach that magical 50-foot draft number.

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To the average person on the street, a foot or two is not very much. Maybe the five feet is the height of your grandchild or the depth of your pool. However, our partners at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did some math and found even an inch means a lot to the shipping community.

NOAA found that one inch of additional draft for an oceangoing ship could mean 9,600 more laptop computers or 1,540 more 55-inch televisions. It could even mean 36 more tractors or 358,000 pounds of wheat.

Imagine what 60 inches would produce.

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Louisiana shippers could soon find out as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with its local sponsor the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, has launched its Reevaluation Study to confirm its economic justification. The study will evaluate the transportation cost savings and highest net benefits derived from the Mississippi River’s draft being increased to 50 feet to match the controlling draft on the third set of locks on the Panama Canal.

 In 2013, the Port of New Orleans along with the Big River Coalition commissioned a study to update the economic benefits of deepening the River to 50 feet. That study determined a 50-foot minimum channel for the Lower Mississippi River would add $11.49 billion in U.S. production, 17,000 new jobs, $849 million in increased income, and result in an $89.40-to-$1 benefit-to-cost ratio.

A draft of the study is due to be complete by the fall of 2016 with a finalized report in 2017. In the meantime, industry officials and political leaders are already working to secure the estimated $150 million needed for Louisiana’s share of the construction cost.

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A deeper River could be done in phases, as deepening Southwest Pass alone could open more than half of the Lower Mississippi River to a 50-foot channel.

The deepening of the United States’ greatest river should be a no-brainer, as the Lower Mississippi River handles more than 500 million tons of cargo annually and accounts for 20 percent of the Nation’s waterborne commerce, including 60 percent of its grain and 20 percent of its coal and petroleum products.

Gary P. LaGrange, PPM
President and CEO



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