LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Operating as the 11th largest in the country, the Port of Lake Charles is the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico for industry and refineries in Southwest Louisiana. But every year the struggle to keep the vessels moving in and out comes to a head as port officials try to make budget with the millions it takes to dredge the Calcasieu Ship Channel.
"This year the Corp. of Engineers tells us that we need about 42 million dollars in the budget and there's about 15 million dollars," said Kay Barnett, Lake Charles Port Board President.
While they've been able to maintain the required depth, the width of the channel hasn't been dredged in years. But not because the money hasn't been there. Nearly five billion dollars sits in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund. On a recent trip to Washington D.C., Barnett and Interim Port Director Mike Dees met with Louisiana lawmakers about accessing that money.
"The dredging funds are there, but the Army Corp. of Engineers just cannot access these funds adequately and my legislation will open up that fund so that the Corp. can do all that is needed to be done to dredge the ship channel completely to meet specified depths and width," said Congressman Charles Boustany.
The bill co-authored by Boustany and a representative from Michigan aims to give ports around the country access to the surplus money - specifically for dredging. Without enough funding for annual dredging of the Calcasieu Ship Channel - the Port of Lake Charles stands to lose business and jobs.
"If we don't have the correct depth, then they have to light load their vessels and then it takes more vessels to bring in the supplies they have and when they do that it costs them more money," explained Barnett.
Congressman Boustany expects bi-partisan support for the legislation once Congress reconvenes after the Easter break.