There’s palpable concern among industrial owners that this year’s record rise in Mississippi River levels is not an isolated event. Some have begun to entertain scenarios where flooding is a recurring phenomenon, even as they must plan for billions of dollars in investments along the waterway.
A recent study by a researcher with The Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge seems to lend credence to this fear, as it shows that flood-stage peaks are getting higher, and the river is remaining high for longer periods of time.
The city of Baton Rouge established a new record in May, marking 136 consecutive days with the Mississippi at or above the flood stage of 35 feet, a depth it surpassed and maintained through mid-summer. That broke the previous record set during the Great Flood of 1927, according to the National Weather Service, although the most recent flood was more significant in terms of the sheer volume of water.
That’s problematic for companies building mega-facilities in St. James Parish and elsewhere, as it could prevent pre-assembled modules and other structures from passing beneath the Crescent City Connection in New Orleans due to inadequate “air draft.” In fact, Wanhua Chemical worries that river heights in 2020-21 could block the passage of modularized units needed for its methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) manufacturing facility. The units will be manufactured in Yantai, China, and shipped to the site.
“It will be important to plan these large module movements to avoid high Mississippi River levels,” says Jim Newport, Wanhua Chemical’s general manager in St. James Parish, in a written statement. “Wanhua will continue to monitor projected river levels and plan site work and large module movements accordingly.”