MOBILE, Ala. – About a year ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District (USACE), had approximately $12 million remaining in Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies funds that had been appropriated to the district to complete authorized projects in the state of Mississippi. The funds were allocated by Congress in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to improve the resiliency of the coast against future storms.
Unfortunately, after a thorough review of potential projects, the district was unable to find one that could be completed within the remaining budget. In fact, it got to a point where Nate Lovelace, dredge material project manager, and his team began to have doubts that they would ever find a project to put the funds to good use.
“After [Hurricane] Katrina, we received funding to go and finish up any projects that were authorized, but hadn’t been funded yet,” said Lovelace. “So basically, if a channel was authorized to go deeper and wider, then Katrina funds gave us the money to bring that about.”
“Based on the cost estimates we were receiving from different project proposals, there was no way we were going to be able to complete a project for under $12 million. So we were actually in the process of giving the money back.”
One of the projects the USACE initially considered was to dredge a leg of the Upper River Lake Channel of the Pascagoula River to authorized depth. Unfortunately, project estimates to dredge the channel were more than $25 million because of the high cost of hauling the dredge material to a disposal site 13 miles away.
“The cost estimate for the leg deepening was more than $25 million because… we were going to have to dredge all of the channel material and then haul it to the ocean disposal site,” Lovelace recalled.
Almost serendipitously, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) were looking to construct a beneficial-use site near the Pascagoula River Leg Channel around the same time.
“[MDMR] had recently received a permit for a beneficial-use site to be used for anybody in the general area who had dredge material,” said Lovelace. “Our team just happened to be talking in a monthly beneficial-use group meeting one day about losing the river leg project, and we thought it’s a shame we’ve got all this marsh-suitable material with nowhere to place it affordably. This is when the idea to combine projects was birthed.”
One way that the USACE would be able to cut costs, was to use a pipeline dredge to pump the material to a nearby site. With Mississippi looking for marsh-suitable materials for their beneficial-use site, it almost seemed too perfect to be true.
After meeting with representatives from Mississippi and a few other agencies involved in the beneficial-use project, a memorandum of understanding was signed for the USACE to place the dredge material from the deepening on the MDMR permitted site. The agreement was a win-win for both sides, bringing the USACE project within budget and reducing the time and costs that it would take for Mississippi to complete their project.
The resulting USACE dredge project, called the Pascagoula River Leg Deepening Project, began last year in November and is scheduled to wrap up in March 2017.
To ensure both project efforts were synchronized, USACE Irvington Office Project Engineer Travis Dyess and Project Inspector Joshua Ellsworth worked closely with Mississippi officials throughout execution.
“A project like this, where several agencies are involved, requires coordination at all levels to make sure all parties get what they want,” said Lovelace. “Travis and Josh were the district’s eyes and ears on the ground and really did an outstanding job making sure everything went according to plan. Having their experience and expertise to run a rental dredge is what ultimately made this project a success.”
When the channel deepening project is finished, the USACE will have moved more than 3.5 million cubic yards of material from the channel, taking it from 38 feet to a depth of 42 feet With the increased depth, larger ships can now navigate the channel, and the beneficial-use site will serve as a barrier to future storms and restore approximately 200 acres of lost tidal marsh.
With the project coming to a close, Lovelace reflected on just how rare it is for several agencies to pool resources for a mutually beneficial goal.
“The ability of multiple agencies to combine resources to produce one outstanding beneficial-use project is really amazing,” Lovelace said. “To combine funding, expertise, and logistics from several sources in one project is almost unheard of in our world.”