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Dredging Spotlight—Digging Deep With the ROBERT M WHITE


a cutter suction dredge on the Mississippi River.
An aerial shot of the RM WHITE at the South Pass Spit Disposal.

As crews aboard the ROBERT M WHITE (RM WHITE) finished dredging the last few hundred cubic yards of material for the South Pass Maintenance Dredging project on the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana, RM WHITE Project Engineer Mason Sherman reflects back on the crew’s hard work and dedication to finishing the year-long project.


“The morale of the RM WHITE crew has been good. These guys trust one another and are confident they can get any job done,” Mason says. “This project was tough, but we have a highly-skilled group of individuals who’ve been through it all.”


The South Pass Maintenance Dredging project is part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) historic program to clear sediment buildup along the Mississippi River Ship Channel (MRSC). South Pass is intended only for smaller vessels and is not open to larger ship traffic. The constant flow of ship traffic on South Pass was discontinued in the 1970s, prompting the bulk of deep-draft vessels to make their way to Southwest Pass. Maintenance along the South Pass channel had declined in the years following its closure to large shipping traffic.


A cutter suction dredge on the Mississippi River.
The RM WHITE digging next to Port Eads on the South Pass Maintenance Dredging project near the southern tip of the Mississippi River.

“South Pass hasn’t been maintained since 2007, so one can only imagine the amount of material that’s collected in the channel,” Mason explains. “With that much time passing, the amount and composition of the material varies, so it makes it difficult for anyone to dig through.” Much of the planning for a project like this starts during the estimating phase while pursuing a project. It is a step-by-step planning process, with the estimating team and project manager working together to find a better way to approach the project. But the South Pass assignment has been unlike any other job in the team’s recent memory. In order to understand the site conditions and water depths of South Pass, Manson engineers conducted preliminary surveys to determine how to approach the area.


When crews arrived at South Pass in April 2021, they found it challenging to position the dredge, tugboats, and the subline along the river because the channel was shoaled in to less than 1-ft. deep in various locations. Crews faced a magnitude of challenges at South Pass, beginning with the laying of submerged pipeline in one to three ft. of water. Careful planning, strategy, and years of crew experience allowed the team to find a solution to get past the shallow water and begin the main phase of work for the project.


The work at South Pass presented new challenges and site conditions for the crew. Over the 13.5-mile stretch of the channel, crews located nine utility lines that ranged from active gas lines to power lines. The project team contacted the utility companies to obtain drawings and information to create a dig plan so crews could safely dig over the lines. The task required continuous communication and coordination between the project team and the utility companies to ensure that plans were safe and efficient. “A typical utility crossing requires the dredge to clear over one side of the line and then spin the dredge around 180 degrees and dig over the other side of the line until it is clear,” Mason says. “This project was unique because the team had to develop a new method for digging over the utility crossings due to the shallow water.”


A close-up view of land equipment on the South Pass Spit site along the Mississippi River in Venice, Louisiana.

In August 2021, Southern Louisiana was hit by Hurricane Ida. The RM WHITE was 50 miles west of Grand Isle, Louisiana, a town that experienced over 50% property damage to residential homes and businesses during the storm. Before the storm’s arrival, crews secured heavy equipment and headed safely back to land. The project was postponed for almost two weeks due to severe flooding of access roads, lack of electricity, and a shortage of supplies. “This job got pretty rough once Hurricane Ida came in and swept the area,” says Robert Ricardy, welder on the RM WHITE crew. “Even though supplies were low and conditions were almost unlivable, Manson found a way to accommodate us.” While the crews waited out the aftermath of the storm, Manson was able to outfit a quarters barge with generators and running water for crews living on and off the barge.


“Many of the crew members live in campers near the jobsite, so we procured generators for them to keep the lights on,” Mason says. “While the accommodations were set up, crews were still hard at work on the dredge and fill sites. It took a while for conditions to get back to normal.”


The project was a year-long dredging assignment that tested even the more experienced crew members on the dredge. The crews aboard the vessel all have a long history of working together, with many following one another from vessel to vessel. Manson’s cutter suction dredging operations require over 40 project team members which consist of the dredge crew, shore crew, project yard, bull gang, tugs, and small boats and tenders. A challenging project of this magnitude inherently advances the safety success of Manson simply through the new experiences and lessons learned on the ground by the crew and team planning and executing the work. The experience of the crew on the decks performing the work cannot be understated. “Everybody on the dredge is capable and talented at what they do,” Robert says. “It’s the best crew to work with because even when the going gets tough, we still find a way to get things done.”


A cutter suction dredge near the Port Fourchon Channel.
The RM WHITE dredging up to 550,000 CY of maintenance dredge material from Port Fourchon Channel.


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