Engineer says canal work could begin in ’05

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 15, 2004

[10/14/2004] Work could begin in 2005 on widening the Yazoo Diversion Canal if the federal share of the $3.9 million project could be obtained.

Gary Walker, a project manager for the Vicksburg District Corps of Engineers, discussed the possible schedule of work on the project Wednesday at the meeting of the Vicksburg Lions Club.

Work on the plan to widen the canal began in the 1990s as the tonnage moved to and from the Mississippi River and the E.W. Haining Industrial Center increased from 3 million tons to 5 million from 1990 to 1992, Walker said. Because of the narrowness of the canal as it was originally built at the turn of the 20th century, industrial development along its east bank and the mooring of barges along its west bank, getting tows through the area has become more and more difficult.

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Walker said the District was asked to study the problem and make suggestions to solve it. As a result, the District’s engineers looked at the idea of widening the canal from its present 150-foot bottom width that is able to handle one-barge tows in low water. Proposals were for widening the waterway to handle two-barge, four-barge or six-barge tows.

When the final report on the project was approved, the recommended project was for widening to handle four-barge tows. This involved widening the canal to a 250-foot bottom width from the junction with the Mississippi River to Glass Bayou and a 200-foot bottom from there to the entrance to the harbor channel.

Walker said when the work begins, the plan calls for the removal of about a million cubic yards of material from the side of the canal opposite Vicksburg, resulting in moving the top bank of the canal about 185 feet to the west.

Displaying a slide, Walker said the federal share was estimated to be about $3.2 million with the local sponsors the City of Vicksburg and the Warren County Port Commission having to come up with about $765,000.

“Most of the local share will come from (community development block grant) funds,” Walker said.

In August, Leland Speed, the newly head of the Mississippi Development Authority recently appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour, pledged support for the grants while meeting with city officials and others who support the widening project.

“If it’s important to you, then it’s very important to the MDA,” Speed was quoted as saying at the time.

Walker said Wednesday the major hurdle that must be overcome now is getting the federal funding.

“We are optimistic we will get the federal funding,” he said, but warned the larger share of the project cost is not likely to come through this year.

“We will get the project done,” Walker said, adding the only question is when.

In response to questions from Lions members, Walker said when the canal is widened, the Corps will likely have to do some maintenance dredging over the years to maintain the minimum 9-foot depth. In that vein, he also said the project, as completed in 1903 is probably one of the Corps’ most successful because the current flow from the Yazoo River keeps the sediment flushed resulting in very little need for dredging.

Walker also told a questioner the benefit to cost ratio of the selected version of the project is 3.1 to 1, the highest of the three proposals.