USACE and Port Admit Reality
It would appear that the Corps of Engineers is finally realizing that the Deep Draft option for the IHNC lock replacement project has been dead for over half a century. Now the discussion seems to be shifting to shallower-draft options. Of course, the local communities impacted by ANY lock replacement have to learn about this through the local press, rather than through regular engagement by the Corps and/or their client, the Port of New Orleans.
Article here and below. Repost from Nola.com article by Bruce Alpert.
WASHINGTON — One of Metro New Orleans largest federal projects — the planned $1.3-billion Inner Harbor Navigational Lock Replacement — is on hold due to a combination of legal and cost impediments.
A 2011 stop-work order by U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon remains in effect, but even without the court ruling, significant funding for the project isn’t available.
Corps lock funding is being used almost exclusively to complete the Olmsted Lock Project, 30 miles west of Paducah, Ky. It is now projected to cost $3.1 billion, twice the estimates of just two years ago. Completion is now scheduled for 2020.
Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, said it now appears significant funding for the New Orleans lock replacement won’t be available until 2028. The corps, however, has allocated about $10 million to upgrade the existing lock, built in 1921, while officials examine a shallower-draft alternative for the original design calling for a deep-draft lock.
LaGrange said the shallower draft alternative could shave $300 million to $400 million from the project’s cost. It also could ease some objections from neighborhood and environmental groups that successfully sought the stop-work order from Fallon.
In his 2011 ruling, Fallon said the project can’t go forward until it completes a second environmental impact statement, addressing the effects of closing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet on the plan.
Fallon said the corps failed to adequately consider that closure of the MR-GO may have eliminated the need for the lock to be deep enough to handle deep-draft vessels.
“On its face this seems to be the proverbial bridge to nowhere; namely, constructing a deep-draft lock which will never be used by deep-draft traffic,” Fallon said in his 2011 ruling.
Corps officials declined to comment on the status of the project.
“Due to pending litigation, we are prohibited from spending any funds or doing any work,” the corps said in a statement.
The lock project has enjoyed strong support from the Louisiana congressional delegation.
But currently, there’s no other lock replacement funding available with the Olmsted lock project sapping up all the available lock funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. And the elimination of so-called congressional earmarks, which allowed members to designate funding for specific projects in their states, means that the determination of project priority rests primarily with the corps.
The corps, as instructed by Judge Fallon, has reviewed whether the closing of Mr. Go means that the large ocean-going ships that would need a deep-draft lock are no longer likely to use the replacement lock.
The corps’ tentative conclusion is that a shallower draft alternative would meet the needs of post MR-GO ship traffic.