Refineries, plants prepare for high water

With the memory of 2011’s flooding still fresh, Baton Rouge- and New Orleans-area refineries and chemical plants are lining up generators, pumps and sandbags to cope with the deluge of water surging down the Mississippi River.

ExxonMobil’s operations have not been affected, but the company is monitoring developments and keeping in touch with federal, state and local emergency planning officials, spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile said. ExxonMobil has a “Flood Preparedness” plan and team in place and is taking precautions.

“Some examples are using sandbags in some areas, and protecting critical equipment and supplies for our entire Baton Rouge refining and petrochemical facility, including docks and terminal facilities in the Baton Rouge area,” Cargile said.

“We are staging equipment such as portable water pumps and portable generators.”

Dan Borné, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, said when the river is as high as it is now and is expected to be, the plants’ shipments of raw materials and finished goods, heading upstream and downstream, can be affected.

If the water gets too high, the plants simply can’t use their docks, Borné said.

Some plants are having to make production decisions based on how quickly and regularly they can ship out or take in products and raw materials by barge or ocean-going vessel, he said. The companies that can are looking at alternative modes to move product, either by rail or 18-wheeler.

“The bottom line is that water at this level can interrupt the supply chain at several points along that chain, one of them being production points of the plants that sit on the river,” Borné said.

Meanwhile, cargo and cruise operations within the Port of New Orleans and along the lower Mississippi River have not been affected by the high river levels, and no interruptions of service are expected, Port of New Orleans spokesman Matt Gresham said.

“We anticipate all public port facilities in the jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans to remain open and on schedule …. We don’t anticipate any significant impact due to high water conditions, but we will continue to keep the international shipping community informed about any conditions that could affect port operations,” Gresham said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway will influence the height of the river at the Carrollton Gauge, he said. The Corps’ goal is to keep the level below 18 feet, the level at which the U.S. Coast Guard typically restricts maritime traffic.

The port is confident the Corps will be able to limit the water height.

The New Orleans Baton Rouge Pilots have advised that there are or are expected to be some restrictions between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, including:

Mooring/unmooring at buoy systems will only take place during daylight hours until the Carrollton Gauge falls to 12 feet.

Once the Carrollton Gauge reaches 16 feet, southbound vessels will be restricted to daylight transits between Mile 233 and Mile 90.5. According to the Corps of Engineers, that’s a mile south of the Old Mississippi River Bridge to a spot between the Domino Sugar Refinery and the Chalmette Battlefield.

Northbound vessels will be restricted to daylight transits between Mile 166 to Mile 232. According to the Corps of Engineers, that’s roughly two miles south of the Sunshine Bridge to just upriver from the Hollywood Casino.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.

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