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Lawmakers want river dredged to handle cargo ships

MISSISSIPPI RIVER — The Army Corps of Engineers should dredge the Mississippi River deep enough to handle the huge cargo ships expected to use the Panama Canal once its expansion is completed next year, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond say.

The Louisiana Democrats have submitted bills to authorize dredging the river to a minimum depth of 50 feet from the mouth of the Mississippi to Baton Rouge, La.

“It is imperative that the single most important river in the United States be prepared for the 21st century economy,” Richmond said in a news release. “Readying the Mississippi River for the expanded Panama Canal is critical to taking advantage of new trade while expanding U.S. exports to businesses worldwide.”

The bills call for using existing maintenance money over the next three years to deepen the river channel.

They also would create a project to rebuild wetlands with dredged sediment, starting with a pump-out site at Southwest Pass. Dredging there would let the ships — called post-Panamax vessels — sail 175 miles upriver.

Many East Coast cities already are planning, building or deepening ports. They include New York-New Jersey, Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., and Miami.

The bills filed yesterday would affect only the Mississippi River.

“Louisiana’s strategic access to the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River is one of our most valuable economic assets,” Landrieu said. “Dredging to 50 feet will allow for larger vessels and more traffic, making our maritime industry even more effective and competitive. This will not only be an economic boost, but expanded beneficial use of dredged material has the potential to greatly enhance our coastal restoration efforts.”

Richmond filed the same bill last year but the House never voted on it, spokeswoman Monique Waters said.

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