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Lower Mississippi River SmartPort & Resilience Center Ramps Up with $1.6M Grant

June 11, 2021

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency announced a $1.6 million grant to The Water Institute of the Gulf for the development of a Lower Mississippi River SmartPort & Resilience Center (SmartPort). This federal award adds to $1.4 million in matching funding from the State of Louisiana and other partners involved in this $3 million collaborative project.

“President Biden is committed to unleashing the full power of the federal government to ensure our nation not only recovers from this pandemic but builds back better,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “SmartPort will use data and analytics to improve business continuity and preparedness, which will better enable Louisiana ports to respond to disasters and prepare for future economic challenges.”

Through the development of a decision support tool to forecast shoaling at port facilities along the Mississippi River, SmartPort will improve port operations and benefit a variety of stakeholders who need to understand how sediment builds up in the Mississippi River. This Real-Time Shoaling Forecast Tool will be coupled with a suite of weather, river, and road traffic analytics to improve efficiency and help the region’s ports become more resilient in the face of future natural disasters and economic shocks.

“With the SmartPort initiative, Louisiana is taking a major leading role in bringing technological efficiencies to maritime commerce,” said Governor John Bel Edwards. “Louisianans are keenly aware of the vital role the Mississippi River plays in our history, our economic successes, and our future. This grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration is an affirmation that they, too, understand the role that safe, efficient river-based transportation plays in the broader U.S. economy. With the support of ports along the river, the SmartPort program will help us set a new standard for safety and emergency management.”

Along with these advanced analytics, customized Resilience Dashboards will be created and maintained for the Ports of Lake Providence, Madison, Vidalia, Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines. These dynamic tools will assist in tracking progress and adaptively managing port resilience. Along with the digital platform, this $3 million investment will culminate in a new SmartPort facility to be housed on The Water Campus in Baton Rouge. The facility will serve as a specialized emergency operation center for ports when needed and a place for the exchange of information during non-emergency times.

“Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi River ports make up one of the most significant maritime complexes in the world,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “Through the establishment of this innovative technology, SmartPort will bring forward the most sophisticated and efficient information management system for water-borne traffic in the world. This will surely increase Louisiana’s global competitiveness. I look forward to working with The Water Institute to initially deploy SmartPort in Louisiana and then to ports across the country and around the world.”

Today’s announcement builds on a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) signed on July 13, 2020, between the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana Economic Development, and The Water Institute to pilot the Real-Time Shoaling Forecast Tool around the Port of New Orleans. The Institute worked closely with the Port of New Orleans, IBM, and Crescent Towing in developing tools that successfully harvested and validated depth data to inform port dredging operations. Through SmartPort, the Institute will be able to scale this successful pilot project along the Lower Mississippi River from North Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Port of New Orleans appreciates the U.S. Department of Commerce’s support and $1.6 million grant,” said Brandy D. Christian, President and CEO of Port NOLA. “Each of the SmartPort initiative partners recognizes the Mississippi River as a critical economic artery that drives economic benefit throughout the state and country. SmartPort’s strategic application of analytics technology will help us all more fully and safely harness commercial opportunities while better understanding river behavior. We appreciate Governor Edwards’ leadership on all maritime related projects, and looks forward to working with our SmartPort partners, Louisiana Economic Development and the Water Institute of the Gulf, as this important initiative grows.”

“With this grant funding, SmartPort is another step closer to reality,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy M.D. “The Gulf plays a critical role in maritime commerce and this collaborative partnership will improve and streamline operations, and ultimately support future job opportunities along the Mississippi River.”

“The Mississippi River is America’s Commerce Superhighway. Its capacity and importance to the U.S. economy is second to none. When the channel fills in and large ships are unable to safely transit the river, it sends ripple effects through Louisiana’s economy and impacts our jobs,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves. “This grant will allow the Water Institute of the Gulf, the ports and other partners to identify areas that need dredging before they become a problem. This benefits the resiliency of the channel, jobs and our economy. This is a great example of how new technology can help to solve old problems.”

“SmartPort is such an innovate idea which will enhance the ease of doing business on and attracting business to the Mississippi River,” said Paul Aucoin, executive director of the Port of South Louisiana.

In addition to supporting Louisiana’s port and navigation sectors, the data collected from the fleet of tugs, barges and other working Mississippi River vessels will be shared with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to benefit the coastal program. Mike Miner, Ph.D., the Institute’s Director of Applied Geosciences, serves as the Principal Investigator for the Real-Time Shoaling Forecast tool, and Scott Hemmerling, Ph.D. Director of Human Dimensions, will lead the development of customized and interactive Resilience Strategies for the eight ports.

“This groundbreaking data will support some of the state’s largest projects including the sediment diversions, sediment management along the lower river, flood control management, and others,” said CPRA Chairman Chip Kline. “We look forward to joining this effort to bring our Mississippi River ports and our coastal program to the next level.”

“The Institute is honored to partner with the State of Louisiana, our world-class network of Mississippi River ports, and the Economic Development Administration on SmartPort,” said Justin Ehrenwerth, president and CEO of The Water Institute. “Through this collaboration, we are developing cutting-edge, crowdsourced solutions that will help us better plan and manage one of our state and nation’s most important assets – the Mississippi River. We look forward to working closely with our many state, federal, and private sector partners to realize the full potential of these exciting, applied research innovations.”

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