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New York/New Jersey Harbor Deepening Complete After Three Decades

Great Lakes dredge New York, 200-foot mechanical dredge is working in the Port Jersey Channel to deepen to 50 feet. The area was primarily glacial till, clay and weathered bedrock (sandstone and schist) in Port Jersey.

Great Lakes dredge New York, 200-foot mechanical dredge is working in the Port Jersey Channel to deepen to 50 feet. The area was primarily glacial till, clay and weathered bedrock (sandstone and schist) in Port Jersey.

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company drillboat Apache works in the Arthur Kill Channel near the New York Con-tainer Terminal. In this area of the harbor, the bedrock is red-brown shale, being dug from the 41-foot channel depth to the 50 feet. Given this thick layer, blasting was required prior to dredging. The yellow lines shown are the blasting cord for the various charges that were set by the drill rigs.

On September 1, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced the completion of the port’s main navigation channel deepening program, culminating work that spans three decades to deepen the harbor to 50 feet.

The $2.1 billion harbor deepening program is four separate authorized Corps projects: Kill Van Kull and Newark Bay Channels, deepened from 35 to 40 feet from 1989 to 1994 and phase two, from 40 to 45 feet, from 1999 to 2004; the Port Jersey Channel, deepened to 41 feet started in 2002 and some of that work was combined with a deepening to 50 feet under one contract from 2008 to 2010; Arthur Kill Channel, deepened in one part to 41 feet from 2002 to 2006 and another part to 40 feet, some from 2002 to 2004 and the rest from 2014 to 2016; the New York/New Jersey Harbor, deepened to 50 feet, from 2004 to 2016.

In total, the project deepened nearly 38 miles of shipping channels between New York and Jersey. The Kill Van Kull Channel is located be-tween Staten Island and Bayonne and connects to the Arthur Kill Channel, Newark Bay and Upper New York Bay. The project also included work on Ambrose Channel to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the Anchorage Channel from the bridge to its confluence with the Port Jersey Channel, the Newark Bay Chanel to Port Elizabeth and its tributary channel, and the Port Jersey Channel.

Donjon Marine Company’s dredge Michigan working in the Arthur Kill Channel in the southern Newark Bay (the old Singer Manufacturing Company building in Elizabeth, New Jersey, can be seen in the background). The open clamshell bucket is dredging some of the blasted sandstone bedrock. 

The project involved 20 dredging contracts, the majority of which were awarded to Great Lakes, and the others went separately or in partnership to Donjon Marine, Inc., Jay Cashman Dredging or Weeks Marine.

The project had some delays and some help along the way. Work on the Kill Van Kull Channel started in 1989, only three years after it was authorized for construction. Then, as the New York District faced issues with the cost of managing its dredged material, during a five-year period no deepening dredging was done, and the Corps worked with Congress and the administration to reevaluate placement options for dredged mate-rial and the overall deepening project. 

In July 1996, led by Vice President Al Gore, an agreement between members of Congress and other congressional interest groups supported the deepening project and finding a better option for dredged material management. The agreement called for a harbor deepening study, which began in 1997 and was finalized in 1999. The harbor deepening was authorized in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000. As the New York District worked to further the de-sign, Congress called for a reevaluation study in 2002 to consolidate what work could be consolidated, and a January 2004 report recommended deferring some features of the previously authorized channel deepening, such as a turning basin at the western end of Port Jersey Channel, and combined certain phased projects, from 40 to 45 feet, then 45 to 50 feet into one project from 40 to 50 feet and updating channel designs, such as straightening the Port Jersey Channel approach.  All told, these consolidations were estimated to save the project over $100 million.

Bryce Wisemiller, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York District project manager, was one of many Corps project managers that worked on the harbor deepening project throughout the years – a project delivery team with dozens of people and half a dozen project managers. As the project has wound down, Wisemiller is the last remaining project manager on this job. He said nearly $800 million in savings had been achieved through the work of the team, and with help from the project’s non-federal sponsor, the Port Authority of NY & NJ, and other federal and state partners.

Donjon Marine Co. dredge J.P. Boisseau, with a Liebherr 995 excavator and 17 cubic yard bucket. The red-brown water indicates it is dredging glacial till or clays. Donjon Marine partnered with Jay Cashman Inc. under two contracts in this area of the Arthur Kill and Newark Bay mainstem channels in 2010 to 2013 as part of the 50-foot project construction. Donjon also had a 41-foot deepening dredging contract in the Arthur Kill area in the 2004 to 2006 time period.

Wisemiller said the savings were a combination of the consolidation of the construction plans; the increased competitive nature of the bids; and the increased efficiency on the part of the contractors.

Part of the 1996 agreement also led to important changes in dredged material management for the district. Sediment had traditionally gone to an ocean disposal site about six miles off the coast, Mud Dump Site (MDS). Material had been placed there predating environmental testing as far back as the 1940s, so some of it was contaminated. In September 1997, EPA terminated the use of MDS, and work began on a new site, the Historic Area Remediation Site (HARS), including criteria for material standards to place there, as well as ongoing monitoring. Wisemiller said HARS now has one of the most stringent ocean testing protocols in the nation. The HARS encompassed the prior MDS and around 15.9 nautical square miles located approximately three miles from Sandy Hook, New Jersey. 

A large majority of the sediment from the deepening program was HARS suitable, Wisemiller said. He said about one quarter (15 million cubic yards) of the sediment was contaminated, which was removed largely in the early contracts. As the lower layers of material was all virgin sediment, largely silt and sand material, which was used initially to place a one-meter cap over the entire HARS site.

Not all the of the material from the proj-ect was silt and sand – a big part of the proj-ect involved blasting and drilling. Bedrock was removed from most of the channels located in the western side of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor, Wisemiller said, and many portions of Newark Bay and the entire footprint of the Ar-thur Kill Channel required blasting and drilling. He credited the contractors with improving the technology and process along the way, which re-sulted in significant cost savings later on. Great Lakes was also able to use cutterhead dredges Florida and Illinois on the eastern end of the Kill Van Kull Channel to fracture serpentinite bed-rock, instead of blasting.

The New York State Department of Envi-ronmental Conservation and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection used large blasted rock in fish reef sites off the New York and New Jersey coast. Rock that was frac-tured with a cutterhead dredge, which looked more like gravel, went to the HARS.

In addition to the fish reef sites, the project used quality sediment in many ways for marsh restoration, coastal storm protection projects and other remediation projects. Dredged ma-terial was beneficially used at the Jamaica Bay Marsh Island Restoration project in New York at Elder’s Island West (249,000 cubic yards), Yel-low Bar Marsh (375,000 cubic yards), Black Wall (155,000 cubic yards) and Ruler’s Bar (92,000 cubic yards); the beach nourishment and shore-line stabilization at Plumb Beach (133,000 cubic yards); Lincoln Park Remediation/Restoration in Jersey City, New Jersey (339,000 cubic yards); Habitat Enhancement Site in Bayonne, New Jersey (one million cubic yards); and used as capping material at the Port Authority’s Newark Bay Confined Disposal Facility (230,000 cubic yards). Combined with maintenance projects also, about 56 million cubic yards of material was used to cap the HARS since it was desig-nated in 1997.

Other environmental programs included har-bor wetland restoration –  four mitigation sites restored 143 acres of wetlands – and the harbor air mitigation program, which repowered tugs and Staten Island ferries in the harbor, replacing diesel engines with clean burning ones, to miti-gate for the air pollution caused by the dredges.

Dredging had to adhere to the environmen-tal windows for winter flounder spawning in the inner harbor areas, from early January/February to May; osprey nesting areas in the New York Bay area; and monitoring for Atlantic sturgeon related to hopper dredge work in the Lower Bay.

Hurricane Sandy brought some challenges and delays. The port was closed for three days as NOAA and the Corps surveyed the harbor in a number of areas to locate lost containers after the storm. In addition to initial damage and cleanup, Wisemiller said the district also noticed increased sedimentation after the storm, particularly in Newark Bay shoals. The debris was removed fairly quickly, but additional work required the separating of contracts to split up work. The district received some money from the Sandy recover bill in 2013 to transition out of construction into recovery mode and back again.

Long before the Corps initiated the 3-3-3 rule, which aims to expedite projects and studies and keep costs low, and increased focus on pub-lic private partnerships for water infrastructure projects, the New York/New Jersey harbor deepening project served as a model for what could be accomplished with good partner-ships between federal, state, local and private partners.

Spurred by the July 1996 letter from Vice President Gore, the Corps executed the study for the project in a short time period, and with tremendous support from the two states and the Port Authority, “We all partnered early on and looked for ways to do the project quicker,” Wisemiller said.

Because of the removal of contaminated sediment, he said, one of the other biggest benefits of the harbor deepening project is the harbor has become cleaner and annual mainte-nance will hopefully become easier. New York Harbor encompasses approximately two dozen separately authorized and maintained federal navigation channels, which generate approxi-mately one to two million cubic yards of sedi-ment annually for maintenance dredging.

The remaining Great Lakes Dredge and Dock contract involves dredging five different utility corridors installed decades ago and other shoals in the Anchorage and Port Jersey Chan-nels. The work also included dredging over re-located water supply siphon lines deeper under the channel, which had been severely delayed by Hurricane Sandy. The utility lines, some less than  105 feet from the deepened channel re-quired installed steel plates over top them, as dredging approached the tunnel. The plates had shoals form atop of them, which needed dredg-ing and will be completed in September. 

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