Dredging keeping shallow port open

Published 11:59 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Mississippi River could dip below 4 feet in Vicksburg by the end of the month, but dredging near the Port of Vicksburg in the past five years should keep the inland port open.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Vicksburg District has announced it will spend $6.84 million to deepen six shallow draft ports at Lake Providence, Madison Parish, Rosedale, Yellow Bend, Greenville and Vicksburg by Sept. 30. The funds are part of $802 million in disaster appropriations from Congress late last year to repair and restore the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries system following last spring’s historic river flood.

About $4 million in work completed in 2008 to widen the Yazoo Diversion Canal has put the local port ahead of the curve for this year’s low-water event, Warren County Port Commission executive director Wayne Mansfield said. Financed with a mix of federal, state and local funds, the dredging deepened the channel by 50 to 100 feet from its junction with the river and the port entrance.

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“It has helped out tremendously from a navigation standpoint,” Mansfield said. “I don’t anticipate the port closing.”

The river was 4.89 feet on the Vicksburg gauge this morning, up four one-hundredths of a foot. A year ago today, it was 36.92 feet. Stages are to rise slightly, to 5.5 feet, by next week, then sink to 3.9 feet by July 25, according to the National Weather Service River Forecast Center. Last year’s flood reached a crest of 57.1 feet in Vicksburg, 14.1 feet above flood stage and nine-tenths of a foot higher than the 1927 flood.

Larger-scale dredging by the Dredge Butcher, operated by Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel Company, continued this week on the two Louisiana ports. Vicksburg is last on the list, expected to be complete by the project’s September end date.

Inland Dredging Company will park vessels in the harbor over the next six months as part of the overall effort. A contract worth $400 a month over the period was ratified Monday by the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

Low-water conditions and the flow of the emergency money will increase the chance ports could close due to low water levels, the Corps said in a news release.

“The (Vicksburg) District continually works with our partners and stakeholders to monitor water levels and provide a navigable port channel for normal barge traffic,” it said. “Due to these low-water levels, the Corps has changed the current dredging schedule in order to maintain navigation as long as possible.”

Federal funding for dredging shallow draft ports is $157,000 for fiscal 2013, which will fund limited surveying, the Corps’ release said.

“Although the District cannot guarantee the ports will remain navigable with a 9-foot channel, we will attempt to meet the needs of the region within the constraints of our budget this year and in the future,” the release said.

The rest of the dredging schedule and the estimated completion dates are: Rosedale, Aug. 5; Yellow Bend, Ark., Aug. 11; Greenville, Sept. 4; and Vicksburg, Sept. 30.