These are exciting times for the U.S. dredging industry, as companies respond to growing demand. The Harbor Maintenance Tax is almost fully utilized for channel maintenance; larger vessels using the new Panama Canal are driving the need for capital projects, like the ongoing Mississippi River deepening; and moving sediments from places of great supply to places in short supply increasingly provides coastal protection and restoration. In Louisiana, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority‘s model 50-year plan is a big part of the demand equation.
These trends have led to an investment boom. As an integral part of the domestic fleet, U.S.-owned companies build and repair in U.S., and Louisiana, shipyards. We provide family wage jobs. We carry U.S. costs on our balance sheets with no national economic subsidies or tax preferences, thus contributing to Louisiana’s No. 1 ranking among the states for Jones Act-generated jobs.
The Advocate reported a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “assessment” found that large cutter suction dredges (CSDs) may be in short supply. Without examining schedules with the public, without examining competitiveness of large hopper dredges on these same projects, without considering reduced performance times by the most efficient dredges, and overlooking more than five large CSDs, the story made for an unfortunate headline in a time of such positive growth.
Comparisons of project costs are also fraught with apples and oranges traps. Transporting material to a mooring location, then blowing it into a pile that will “naturally” disperse itself on the downdrift beach (so-called “Sand Motor”) is possible with certain sand under certain hydrologic conditions. Unfortunately, it would be impossible to replicate on a Louisiana barrier island, where the challenge is to find quality sand that will stack and the work requires experienced heavy equipment operators.
A quick look at the Corps Dredging Information System also would have revealed as false the claim that there are only five U.S. companies “that now handle 98% of all private-sector work.” Also unchallenged was a claim that taxpayers could save $1 billion per year if dredging was performed by Europeans, a specious claim in a nationwide market that in a record year, topped out below $2 billion. And the 14 pre-1977, vintage steam-powered Corps hopper dredges of reported “high capacity” never performed coastal restoration work — never owned equipment, nor had employees, to perform challenging reclamation projects.
The good news is that two large CSDs are a year old and three more are on the way. Three more large hopper dredges are also under construction. In 2018, hopper dredging capacity grew by 35%. These investments are serious bets on Louisiana’s quantifiable needs and more certain federal funding. The dredging industry has a bright future.
interim CEO & executive director, Dredging Contractors of America