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Federal Funds Come Through for Completion of Corps of Engineers Saginaw River Deepening Study

A study to determine the feasibility of deepening the Saginaw River in eastern Michigan will be completed now that the federal government has committed the necessary funding, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. 

However, if the deepening is ultimately approved through the lengthy study and review process, plus obtains the necessary funding through the Water Resources Development Act, contracts won’t be put out for bid until 2020 or later, said Adam Fox, chief of the Detroit District Planning Branch. 

The $1.3 million study will analyze the economic benefits and possible environmental ramifications of deepening the 17.9-mile-long shipping channel, which now ranges from 22-27 feet in depth. Many ships cannot load to their full capacity in the Saginaw River, and some vessels have struggled to maneuver through turns and constrictions, Corps officials say. Failure to ensure reliable waterborne transportation for commodities such as limestone, coal, petroleum products, gypsum, salt, cement, grains, potash and fertilizer would make the Saginaw Bay region less economically competitive.

The state of Michigan and private sector shipping companies are paying for $600,000 of the study. The federal share was insufficient to continue the study past fall of 2016, but in June, the Corps announced it had received an additional $16.5 million of federal funds for its fiscal 2017 work plan. Of that, $100,000 will complete the federal share of the study.

The draft study is scheduled to undergo public and agency review beginning in spring 2018, Fox said, and after that, Congress will review the final report beginning in summer 2018. In the meantime, Corps economists will conduct a cost/benefit analysis to recommend whether the deepening project should be undertaken.

The Corps technical analysis involves hydraulic modeling to assess the impact of various deepening scenarios. Scientists are assessing data obtained from hydrographic surveys, as well as sediment samples taken in the past two years. 

“We modeled for water-surface profiles at various target depths to investigate possible impacts to the Shiawassee Flats wetlands upstream of the potential project location,” Fox said. Virtually no impacts were noted in water levels or flows, he said, adding that a deeper Saginaw River would provide the advantage of mitigating floods due to its greater water storage capacity. Based on the nature of the clay material that would be excavated, Corps found there would be no impact on groundwater supplies. 

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