Red River dredging may end, RRWC fears economic downturn - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Red River dredging may end, RRWC fears economic downturn

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The Red River's 203 miles of navigable waterways always has seemed to hold great economic opportunity.

While a just released study cites its past benefits, the river's future economic impact is precarious. To the Red River Waterway Commission, its muddy waters will help our area thrive into the future by helping attract industries, like Benteler Steel. Though, budget concerns have some worried about that future. The study says the Red River attracted to its seven parish area $7.1 billion in economic development, that's since the waterway commission was created in 1969. Ken Guidry, the commission's executive director, says most of the billions were generated within the last 20 years.

"The river wasn't operational until around '95," Guidry said. "So, the bulk of these dollars have accrued since '95."

Making the river operational meant making it navigable, which was a $2 billion federal investment. It takes money for maintenance. The bulk of that cost is for dredging. This is a process of digging into the riverbed to ensure a deep enough channel exists for cargo barges. Guidry says budget cuts threaten this work.

"One of the things everybody needs to understand and be engaged with, is the fact that the corps of engineer's funding levels for the river, for 2015, are not good," Guidry said.

Guidry says there's no funding reserved for dredging at all in the 2015 budget. He believes that will affect existing industry and the river's economic potential.  

"That means barges can't get to Caddo-Bossier," Guidry said. "So, I think that would have a great influence on it."

Guidry admits the corps of engineers has cut the budget because there isn't enough cargo traffic on the Red, which means the commission needs to get to work.

"It's incumbent upon us to put more cargo on the river to continue the upward motion of the waterway," Guidry said.

Barge traffic has decreased since the Haynesville Shale boom dissipated. Guidry hopes to replace some of that traffic with the timber industry. Though, the river faces stiff competition from  trucks and trains.

"Trucking and rail prices have come down," Guidry said. "They've offset that off of the barge transportation."

Guidry believes barges offers the timber industry a slightly cheaper way to transport goods because more can be moved. He also points out river transport is safer and  more environmentally friendly. In the coming months, Guidry says congressional leaders will be approached and asked to find money for dredging the Red River. He says $2.5 million to $3.5 million is needed.


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