By Frank McCormack
July 17, 2017
For the first time in the 23 years since its official completion, the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway—the navigable stretch of the Red River between the confluence of the Old and Red rivers above Baton Rouge, La., and Shreveport-Bossier City in North Louisiana—will host the Mississippi River Commission (MRC). The MRC will perform a low-river inspection aboard the mv. Mississippi next month.
The Red River Valley Association, the four-state organization focused on the development of land and water resources within the Red River Basin, and the Red River Waterway Commission, the local sponsor of the J. Bennett Johnston Navigation Project, will host the MRC from August 13 to August 16. The MRC, established in 1879, is charged with providing water resources engineering and policy advice for the Mississippi River and its tributaries to Congress, the Army and administration.
“We are excited that the MRC will be making a trip on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway,” said Richard Brontoli, executive director of the association. “It is an opportunity for our communities and ports to show the benefits and successes developed, due to this civil works project. When we make future testimonies to this influential commission, they will have experienced our waterway and better appreciate our needs.”
The visit will come just months after the long-sought-after proposal to deepen the waterway from 9 feet to 12 feet officially made it into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ annual future water resources development report to Congress. The next step for the project, which according to a Red River Waterway Commission study would have a 4.6 to 1 benefit-cost ratio, is to be included in a water resources bill. Waterway leaders believe hosting the MRC on the full length of the waterway will be beneficial in making the case for the deepening project to Congress.
“The Mississippi River Commission is a great advocate for navigation and the development of water related resources,” said Colin S. Brown, executive director of the Red River Waterway Commission. “They have a strong voice with Congress and the administration. This trip offers government, industry and other users a forum where they can provide input directly to the commission. It is a great opportunity for us to highlight the success of the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway but also to educate others about our needs. Such needs include consistent funding for maintenance dredging and recovery from recent flooding, as well as the development of a 12-foot channel. Hosting the Mississippi River Commission has the potential to positively impact the development of our waterway.”
Some other key issues waterway leaders will stress to members of the MRC include the need for adequate operations and maintenance (O&M) funding for dredging, the use of construction general and O&M funding for repairing degraded dikes and revetments following the historic flooding of 2015 and 2016, and the importance of levee and flood protection to protect communities that line the waterway.
“Those are the key issues we’re going to stress during the three days while we show them the waterway,” Brontoli said.
The Red River Valley Association and Red River Waterway Commission are also coordinating a wide range of site visits for the Mississippi River Commission, including recreational facilities, visitor centers, the Red River National Wildlife Refuge, ports along the waterway, the river’s five locks and dams, and CLECO’s power plant terminal on the Red River. With those site visits, waterway leaders look forward to highlighting the important role the Red River plays in North and Central Louisiana.
“We’re showing them the breadth of the benefits of a civil works project,” Brontoli said.
The MRC will also hear from regional stakeholders who will participate in panel discussions covering topics like flood control, port operations, economic development and navigation. The Navigation Committee panel will actually take place aboard the mv. Mississippi as it moves down the Red.
“We think that will be a great opportunity for industry to tell the successes they’ve had and also the problems they’ve had on the river and items that would allow them to continue to grow,” Brown said. “We’ll also have some of the Corps of Engineers representatives speak about damage to dikes and revetments as a result of recent flooding on the river.”
The visit will start with a reception and dinner the evening of August 13 at the Caddo-Bossier Port Regional Commerce Center just south of Shreveport. Site visits in the Shreveport-Bossier City area are then scheduled for August 14. The group will be in the Natchitoches and Coushatta areas August 15, followed by a river inspection between Alexandria and Lock 1 August 16.