New Legislation Aimed at Building Wetlands while Deepening Mississippi River in anticipation of Panama Canal Expansion completion.
Congressman Cedric Richmond ha introduced the DREDGE Act of 2012-Dredging for Restoration and Economic Development for Global Exports. The bill would give the Army Corps of Engineers the authorization to dredge the Mississippi River to 50 feet so that larger vessels transiting the expanded Panama Canal can access the River. In addition, the bill creates a pilot project to promote the rebuilding of wetlands using existing sediment dredged from the River.
“The Mississippi River is undoubtedly the most important river in the United States,” said Congressman Richmond. “Its proximity to the Panama Canal is vital to our nation’s economy and critical to supporting the President’s goal of doubling America’s exports. With the introduction of the DREDGE Act of 2012, we are preparing for the future while strengthening our wetland restoration efforts. By deepening the Mississippi River, we continue to remain effective and competitive in the global market while preparing the state of Louisiana to capitalize on an extremely valuable asset, our ports.”
In addition to deepening the Mississippi River, the DREDGE Act of 2012 calls for greater accountability concerning sediment disposal from dredging. This legislation directs the Corps to install a pump-out site in the Southwest Pass so that the sediment is no longer wasted and is instead used to rebuild our wetlands.
The Environmental Defense Fund, The National Wildlife Federation, and The National Audubon Society issued the following statement:
“We agree with Congressman Richmond that the present management of the lower Mississippi River fails to meet the nation's needs for either navigation or restoration. Adequately addressing the changes that are happening in the lower Mississippi River is critical to Louisiana and the nation. Representative Richmond’s bill illuminates a critical fact – getting sediment out of the river is essential to both navigation and restoration. Vital studies now underway promise to provide answers that will be necessary to end our dependence on an increasingly more expensive and endless cycle of dredging. In the meantime, beneficial use of the sediment removed from the channel by dredging should be the minimum federal response.” (Emphasis supplied)
“My legislation also creates a pilot project to study the potential cost savings of using sediment dredged to rebuild wetlands instead of simply dumping it in the ocean,” said Congressman Richmond. “Currently, dredges working in the lower Southwest Pass dump sediment, the life blood of our wetlands, into the Gulf of Mexico. Estimates show that by redirecting all of the sediment dredged in the Southwest Pass, we can create approximately 775 acres of wetlands per year.”
"Rep. Cedric Richmond should be commended for his vision and leadership in sponsoring legislation to authorize the USACE to dredge the Mississippi River navigation channel where needed to a 50 foot depth,” said Allen Gibbs, President of the Crescent River Port Pilots’ Association. “With the advancement of the RAMP Act legislation, the funds currently collected from the channel users can be used for its intended purpose, channel dredging. Rep. Richmond's legislation will compliment the RAMP Act legislation to provide an opportunity to capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2014 to accept larger vessels and deeper draft. In addition, the material removed from the channel deepening project can be used for coastal restoration. This effort will create new jobs, and increase commerce in the state and the nation."
The Army Corps of Engineers will also be tasked with reporting to Congress on the cost of the pump-out disposal operation compared to current dredging practices. In addition, the report will state the total amount of material dredged during Operations and Maintenance activities in the New Orleans District and how much material was used beneficially.
Not one single port in the Gulf of Mexico and only a handful on the East Coast can currently accept the larger vessels that will start traveling through the expanded Panama Canal. More than 1,800 cargo vessels with a draft of 40 feet or more transit the Mississippi River each year. The five ports on the lower Mississippi River constitute the largest port complex in the world, moving more than 400 million tons of cargo annually. Roughly 60 percent of all U.S. grain exports are shipped via the Lower Mississippi and more than 20 percent of all waterborne commerce in the United States pass through the lower Mississippi River. Current cargo activity within the Port of New Orleans alone generates $2.8 billion in federal taxes each year.