The Dredge McFarland, based out of Fort Mifflin in Philadelphia, completed 62 days of urgent dredging at the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River 90 miles south of New Orleans.
The McFarland, one of four Army Corps owned and operated deep-draft hopper dredges, arrived in the Gulf at the end of March and worked through the end of May. The dredge was called upon because critical shoals impacted navigation along the Mississippi River. High river stages occurred, which increased shoaling at the mouth of the river.
"This is the McFarland’s mission and the purpose of the ready-reserve status – to be able to respond to our nation's emergencies when called upon," said Lt. Col. Michael Bliss, USACE Philadelphia District Commander.
Since 2010, the McFarland has operated in a Ready Reserve status, meaning the vessel is limited to 70 days per year of dredging operations in the Delaware River. The crew performs readiness exercises to maintain skills, and ensures that the McFarland remains in a fully operational state, ready to respond to emergency or urgent dredging requirements.
This year, private industry dredging vessels were unable to meet all of the dredging demands of the Lower Mississippi River due to other projects around the country. This prompted the New Orleans District to raise an alert to USACE headquarters, which then summoned the McFarland to the urgent situation in the Mississippi River.
The vessel primarily dredged the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River, but it operated wherever necessary based on surveys. She removed approximately 950,000 cubic yards of material from the channel during the deployment.
"The river is surveyed on a daily basis so we are frequently relocated to dredge in the areas where the sediment is shoaling," said Stanley Kostka, Second Mate. "This is important work that we're doing," said Kostka. "Maintaining these channels allows ships and resources to get where they need to go.”
In addition to shoaling, the Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River experienced a significant amount of heavy flocculation, a phenomenon of increased suspended sediment in the river. To safely pass through the flocculation, certain vessels can only enter the river during higher tides.
The private industry hopper Dredge Stuyvesant worked with the McFarland simultaneously in the Lower Mississippi River. The hopper Dredge Wheeler, which is owned and operated by the USACE New Orleans District, was working in the river, but sustained damages during high winds and had to depart to undergo repairs.
Ready Reserve Status
In Ready Reserve status, the McFarland can be activated to address any emergency or urgent dredging requirement if private industry is unable to respond to a dredging project.
"I think of the dredge like a fire truck in that it will respond when needed, but otherwise we train, perform repairs, and keep the equipment and crew ready to respond to headquarters-directed callouts" said Jim Amadio, McFarland Operations Manager.
The USACE New Orleans District oversees maintenance dredging along the Lower Mississippi River. Providing a reliable deep draft navigation channel in the Mississippi River is a critical component of the national economy.