[StBernard] Changing channels Critics rip Corps for its inability to move quickly on MRGO

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Tue Dec 26 23:36:59 EST 2006

Efforts to close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet persist as does the
question of who will pay for relocating five nearby businesses that depend
on the channel.

After more than a year without deepdraft navigation, the 76-mile MRGO - long
believed a primary culprit for flooding metropolitan New Orleans - took
another hit Dec. 15 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended
closing the channel to all navigation. MRGO was dredged to a depth of up to
36 feet pre-Katrina but the storm silted it to little more than 20 feet

The Corps report delivered to Congress determined the $12.5 million it costs
each year to operate, dredge and maintain the MRGO for deepdraft navigation
outweighed the transportation benefits of $6.2 million by more than 50

The report claimed shallowdraft navigation of 14 feet was not
cost-effective. The Corps estimated construction and maintenance dredging
for shallowdraft to range between $6 million and $9 million annually with
benefits of only $3.7 million.

The report provides several options but recommends closing shallow and
deepdraft navigation and building an armored earthen dam south of Bayou La
Loutre near Hopedale.
Environmentalists and St. Bernard Parish residents had pushed for MRGO's
closing. However, the Corps recommendation is not the best news for the Port
of New Orleans.
Gary LaGrange, Port president and CEO, has lobbied state and congressional
delegates for more than a year to help the remaining five businesses trapped
in the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal without MRGO access.

The Port made fiscal concessions in 2006 such as lower rent for some
businesses, particularly frozen poultry exporter New Orleans Cold Storage,
to help pay the added costs of trucking their product to ships on the
Mississippi River.

"Everything we've been doing for this year ... has been centered around
alternatives for the seven companies - two of which we've already lost - to
be relocated or need to be subsidized to maintain their cost-effective
businesses," LaGrange said.

LaGrange and the affected businesses maintain the federal government or
state should pay for relocating the facilities because the MRGO is a
federally mandated waterway. Businesses such as NOCS and CG Railway, a
rail-ferry service on the MRGO, invested $9 million and $30 million,
respectively, to improve their facilities, which are virtually useless
without MRGO access.

International Shipholding Corp., which owns CG Railway and was based in New
Orleans, said it will move its headquarters and CG Railway to Mobile, Ala.,
in early 2007 in part because of the MRGO closure.

"We have ships operating every three days with one ferry coming up the
MRGO," said ISC Chairman Erik Johnsen. "It is operating satisfactorily and
we will continue to operate there until the Mobile terminal is ready."

Although LaGrange does not advocate reopening the MRGO, he is pushing for
shallow navigation with flood control measures for barge traffic.

"From an economic standpoint, I think anytime you can maintain navigation
with flood control measures, then that's the best you can hope for,"
LaGrange said.
The Corps will deliver its final plan for closure to Congress in December

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