$1.6 million awarded to Louisiana SmartPort initiative to help prepare for disasters, economic challenges


On June 9, the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced a $1.6 million grant to The Water Institute of the Gulf to support a partnership with Louisiana Economic Development, the Port of New Orleans, and the state of Louisiana in developing the Lower Mississippi River SmartPort & Resilience Center (SmartPort). Photo by Tim Mueller, Tim Mueller Photography

BATON ROUGE, La (KLFY) — 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 and Resilience Center.

This federal award adds to $1.4 million in matching funding from the State of Louisiana and other partners involved in the $3 million collaborative project.

First announced in July 2020, the SmartPort Initiative is designed to streamline operations and improve safety through real-time data shared by port administrators, tenants, shippers, and warehouse, cargo and ground transportation providers.

The program comprehensively evaluates navigation, coastal issues, and flood risks along the Mississippi River. Additionally, the program will ultimately support efforts for the proposed river diversion project.

The Port of New Orleans, the Port of South Louisiana, and the Port of Greater Baton Rouge are lead partners with LED in supporting the project, along with other ports and warehouses along the Lower Mississippi River. 

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.

“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.”

“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,” Edwards said. “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.

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. 

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.    

To read more about Louisiana Economic Development, click here.

To read more about the Water Institute of the Gulf, click here.

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