The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District held a conference call on April 26 to provide an update on the progress of the Navigation Improvement Study for the Miami Harbor in Florida.
The area being examined includes the outer entrance channel, Fisher Island turning basin, Fisherman’s Channel and Lummus Island turning basin; however, the exact footprint of any deepening project has not yet been determined as the Corps is still studying where problems exist.
Corps Planning Lead Ashleigh Fountain said the study is examining how to reduce transportation costs to and from Miami over a 50-year period beginning in 2025. Fountain said questions the Corps is looking to answer include, “Is there a federal interest in how existing navigation is contributing to delays and cost problems? Is depth, width restricting vessels and what vessels are restricted? Is there a federal interest in going forward with the improvement? How is Miami Harbor contributing to national economic development?”
A tentatively selected plan is on schedule to be completed by January 2020 with a draft report available to the public in April 2020.
The Corps will study problems with transportation from the ship’s origin to the Miami Harbor to determine if vessels traveling through the Panama Canal, Suez Canal and along the eastern seaboard face impediments traveling into the harbor. Next, the study will consider harbor congestion from cruise ships and commercial traffic, not only the number and size of vessels using the harbor, but also at what time of day or under what loads the ships have issues safely navigating. Finally, the study will look at means to minimize the environmental impacts of any navigation solutions.
The Corps is in the beginning of the study phase collecting data and information.
“Right now we’re in the engineering phase where we are collecting geotechnical information, grab samples, to find what is the subsurface for where we might be removing materials,” Fountain said. “We have done some data collection in the field looking at water level and currents to find what are the hydrodynamics interacting with ships.”
She said the Corps is also exploring information on the salinity of the water to find if it might change if the area is dredged, and how much material might need to be removed; however, all that work is preliminary as the footprint for the project has not yet been defined.
The Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is conducting the ship simulations to see what various types of vessels require when moving around the harbor. “They have a pilot simulate a ship getting into the harbor in various scenarios. He’ll cover all facets of movement like docking and turning, so we can see what is needed for each type of vessel,” Fountain said.
Once ship simulations are well underway, work can begin on the economic analysis using HarborSym, which looks at the national economic benefit of the harbor and whether there is a transportation cost savings with any deepening. To do this, researchers examine how the harbor is operating today and forecast how it might look in the future with both improvements to the harbor and none.
Fountain said that the last deepening project, where the studies for it began in 1999, didn’t wrap up until 2015, around the same time the Panama Canal finished its expansion, and the world fleet responded with larger vessels with deeper drafts. The new project will try to figure out how the harbor will function in the future and how it can respond to changes.
The last part of the study will include the environmental analysis, which will involve cultural resources surveys, benthic and hardbottom surveys in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service, habitat assessments and more.
Overall the team is working to be more transparent on this deepening project than they may have been previously. Plans are to hold public calls quarterly to release information about the project and take comments or questions. The Corps hopes to hold another call in August.