David Vitter (R., La.) is backing calls to deepen the
Mississippi river to 50 feet so that ports on the waterway can
accept cargo from post-Panamax size vessels.
A project allowing
larger ships to pass through the Panama Canal will be completed
in 2015, and the U.S. shipping industry is scrambling to get
federal dollars and private funding to widen or deepen harbors,
ports and waterways.
are required for, among other things, the large amount of
commodities, including ferrous and nonferrous metals, imported
and exported by the United States every year.
Nearly 94.8 million
tons of iron, iron ore, steel waste and scrap moved across U.S.
waterways in 2011, according to the latest figures available
from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Primary metal product
shipments by water totaled 67.8 million tons, including steel,
copper, aluminum, ferroalloys and manganese, while shipments of
nonferrous ores and scrap totaled 26.9 million tons.
Vitter, the ranking
member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public
Works, met with industry and Louisiana transportation officials
Aug. 22 in New Orleans to draw attention to a new economic
impact report detailing the benefits of dredging the
Mississippi to a depth of 50 feet from its 45-foot draft.
The Big River
Coalition and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and
Development commissioned the study by economist Tim Ryan.
Ryan determined a
deeper channel allowing for larger vessels to maximize cargo
throughput would increase domestic production by close to $11.5
billion, generate nearly 17,000 new permanent jobs and boost
the income of American workers by $849.5 million.
"The water resources
bill that we passed through the Senate earlier this year will
give us the opportunity to increase funding to dredge and
improve our waterways and infrastructure," Vitter said in a
The Lower Mississippi
River channel was originally authorized to be deepened to 55
feet in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1986 but
it was never dredged below 45 feet due to a federal requirement
that annual maintenance beyond 45 feet be financed by the
state. Language in the new WRDA bill would shift maintenance
costs to the federal level.
"If the Mississippi
River is not deepened to match the controlling draft of the new
Panama Canal locks, U.S. exporters become less competitive in
the world market and consumers pay more for goods and
services," Big River Coalition executive director Sean M. Duffy
can carry 13,000 to 14,000 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU)
containers, up from the current Panamax vessels, which can only
carry 4,400 TEUs.
The project to deepen the Lower Mississippi River will cost
an estimated $300 million.