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Ports across the country are gearing up for major expansions and deepening projects, in large part for the expansion of the Panama Canal.

For post-Panamax vessels to call at U.S. ports, they need a depth of 50 feet. On the East Coast only three major ports (Baltimore, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; and the recently completed New York/New Jersey Harbor) can handle those vessels.

Many of the other ports are in varying stages of the deepening process. In this issue, we have updates on the Delaware River channel expansion. Weeks Marine is working to remove sand from the channel and rebuild Broadkill Beach in Delaware, and the overall $300 million, 102-mile long project is slated for completion in 2017. See page 29.

Also in this issue on page 25, you can read about the $710 million Jacksonville Harbor deepening project, which will deepen the federal navigation channel from 40 to 47 feet. Work has begun at Mile Point along the St. Johns River, and the deepening project will follow. It will complete the pre-construction, design and engineering (PED) phase in November.

In June, the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project received its Corps of Engineers approval for the Final Integrated Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement, and the Chief’s Report was issued September 14. The recommended plan will deepen a portion of the federal channel to 52 feet. Post-Panamax ships can already call at the Port of Charleston, but under restricted conditions, depending on the tidal stage. (See the Jan/Feb 2014 issue.)

The Port of Miami deepening project, which is taking the harbor channel from 42 to 50 feet, is nearing completion on its final phase. (See Jan/Feb 2015 issue.)

The Port of Houston began work this summer deepening and widening the navigation channel and berthing areas, which is scheduled for completion by February 2016. (See June 2015 issue.)

In March, the Savannah District awarded the first of the contracts for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) for $134,486,949.80, to deepen the part of the outer harbor from 42 to 47 feet. This first contract will deepen 18.5 of the total 40 miles of channel and will be completed by summer 2018. (See April/May 2015 issue.) 

In February, the Corps approved the final environmental and economic feasibility study for the Port Everglades expansion project, which will deepen the channel from 42 to 48 feet. (See June 2015 issue.)

At the Port of Wilmington, the North Carolina State Ports Authority is conducting a feasibility study for harbor upgrades, and studies are underway for deepening project in Mobile, New Orleans and Boston.

The passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) 2014 was supposed to pave the way for federal funding of many of these port projects, yet many are still waiting.

On July 28, a group from Congress wrote a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, about funding for SHEP for the FY 2017 budget. “Up until that time, the vast majority of funding for SHEP construction will have come from the State of Georgia,” the letter reads. It goes on to say that the key to success for the project depends on the budget proposal including at least $100 million for the Corps to use for SHEP.

One common theme among many of these advancing deepening projects is funding from non-federal sources, the state or port authority, not increasing federal funds. Both the Port of Miami and Houston projects are 100 percent funded by the local port authorities. The Port Authority of Jacksonville has advanced the federal share of funding for the Mile Point project, so it could proceed, and when the deepening project in Jacksonville failed to received FY16 funds, the port authority again agreed to do the same for that project.

No matter which way it turns, the Corps has to make tough decisions about its budget until Congress funds the Civil Works program at an acceptable level. Until then, state and port authority may have to continue pushing projects forward, while the Corps’ hands are tied by a shortfall budget.

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