After more than a decade of planning, the Port of Iberia is finally positioned to begin a project designed to open the port to larger barges and ships.

The Acadiana Gulf of Mexico Access Channel (AGMAC) dredging project would allow for the dredging of a 16-foot deep channel all the way from the port to the Gulf of Mexico via the Intracoastal Canal. It also would allow for dredging of more than 14 miles of the Commercial Canal to meet the Intracoastal south of the port.

“We have already improved the bulkheads and dredged to 20 feet inside the port,” said O’neil Malbrough, the vice president of coastal design and infrastructure for GIS Engineering at the port commission’s regular meeting Tuesday night. 

The first step would be to lower five pipelines that traverse the Commercial Canal between the port and the Intracoastal so that channel could be dredged to a depth of 16 feet. The projected cost to lower those five pipelines is $3.1 million.

Port of Iberia Executive Director Craig Romero said the port needs a deeper channel in order to remain competitive.

“Dynamic, Omega, Frank’s, they are all being denied the ability to bid on projects because of navigation charts showing a ridiculously low depth at the Port of Iberia,” Romero said. 

After the pipeline hurdles are cleared, Malbrough said the first stage of dredging — to increase the channel’s depth to 16 feet — could begin.

“We’ll do the first pass at 16 feet, then if the industry wants 20, there’s nothing else to lower,” Malbrough said. “We just dredge.”

Malborugh said he would have a presentation for the board at its next meeting on April 25.

“We’ll begin meeting with pipeline company and DOTD and tell them to get started,” Malbrough said.

The board also discussed an intergovernmental agreement between the Port of Iberia and Iberia Parish Government for the use of an office building to house parts of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office staff.

According to board member Larry Rader, the board’s finance committee met and removed two portions of the agreement which the parish had inserted to limit its exposure for large-scale maintenance at the facility.

“We had a meeting concerning building,” Rader said. “The parish made changes to the original intergovernmental agreement. We corrected those and sent it back. Now we are waiting for them to send it back to us.”

IPSO Chief Deputy Richard Hazelwood was at the meeting to say Sheriff Louis Ackal had no place in the negotiations.

“The sheriff said this is something for the parish government to do,” Hazelwood said in a brief statement.”So they will have to be done through them.” 

The debate over the use of the building began months ago, but has gone back and forth between the Iberia Parish Council and the Port of Iberia several times. The council’s concern is that if a large maintenance issue were to arise — like the need for a new roof on the structure — it could leave the parish in a financial bind.

“Some of the feelings of the committee members were that we are spending $130,000 to make sure the building is as maintenance-free as it could be,” Romero said. “I can’t understand why they would have a problem with this. The building is ready to be occupied.”

Rader moved that the board accept the committee’s recommendation to reject the parish’s changes. The motion passed unanimously.

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