NEW MADRID - A dredge operation is in essence a self-contained community.
With 43 employees, working in shifts of 14 days on the river and seven days off, the men and women of the Ponchartrain's crew work round-the-clock, seven days a week. In addition to the captain, there are dredge operators, boat operators, engine room personnel, deckhands, welders and galley crew.
Their floating city includes of course, the dredge and its cable, pipes and buoys. There is fuel and water storage, work areas to complete repairs, laundry facilities, bedrooms, kitchen and dining area.
Two boats move the workers around the harbor as they continually monitor the clearing of dirt from the river's bottom. A third boat ferries visitors and workers to the river landing.
Mike Latiolais, captain of the Ponchartrain, has worked on the river since 1971 and said the work has its challenges.
"There are different problems and when you are living with this many people, well, sometimes it's like raising another family," he said, grinning.
Owned by Great Lakes Dredging, the Ponchartrain was built in 1962. Through the years the equipment has received numerous upgrades and today it includes 4,000 horsepower engine to power its dredging operations and a computer system to monitor operations.
The company is contracted by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the work, conducted primarily through the summer months when the river is low. Congress has mandated the Corps maintain a channel 9-foot-deep and 300-foot-wide channel on the Mississippi River.