NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Army Corps of Engineers will be getting $55 million in emergency funds to pay for dredging the silting Mississippi River — a sum that will help the corps maintain the river’s channel to depths ships need to safely move up and down the waterway.
The new funds are from a recent emergency spending bill and were allocated to the corps this week, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said Wednesday.
Rachel Rodi, a corps spokeswoman, said the money increases the corps’ ability to dredge the river and “eases concerns for the rest of the year.”
The corps had about $70 million this year for dredging. With the new funds, the corps will have more than $120 million, which is more than the corps has gotten in years past for dredging.
The corps cut its dredging budget last year and maritime businesses have been complaining about the channel narrowing and silting in. A coal freighter ran aground briefly Tuesday, highlighting problems in the channel.
Last week, maritime businesses released a report showing that the U.S. economy faced losing billions of dollars in trade unless the corps’ budget for dredging was increased to prevent the river from silting in.
Every year, the corps keeps the channel open with dredges that remove mud and allow ships to get to the Port of New Orleans. But in the last year, the corps has seen its dredging budget cut by about $45 million.
The Mississippi River is a major thoroughfare to the world’s markets for grain, soybeans, pig iron, coal and many other products for 29 states and Canada. About 60 percent of U.S. grain exports cross the mouth of the Mississippi. Between $85 billion and $104 billion in foreign trade passes through New Orleans, according to figures from the Customs and Border Protection.
But the river carries huge amounts of silt and sediment — about 200 million tons a year — and unless it is stirred up by dredges the river clogs up and that forces ships to reduce their draft — in other words, how much cargo they can carry. Draft is the depth of a loaded vessel’s keel below the water line.
On Wednesday, the corps said it was sending a hopper dredge to clear the channel near Venice.