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Corps of Engineers endorses port’s plan to deepen channels

Friday, November 10, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Ashley McLeod

The Virginia Maritime Association (VMA) has been and will continue to be the leading business advocate for the Wider-Deeper-Safer navigation channels that are now supported by the findings of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.   

On November 9, the Corps of Engineers released the Norfolk Harbor Navigation Improvements Draft General Reevaluation Report/Environmental Assessment (Draft GRR/EA) for public review and comment – with comments due by December 9.   (http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/About/Projects/Norfolk-Harbor-Channel-Deepening/)  

VMA is pleased by the Corps of Engineers' findings and will review them for widening and deepening alternatives that might yield even greater benefits than those already supported by the Draft GRR/EA.  VMA's comments will be shared with our membership well in advance of the December 9 deadline so that they may be used as a resource as our members prepare comments in support of Wider-Deeper-Safer navigation channels.

 

Corps of Engineers endorses port’s plan to deepen channels

The Virginian-Pilot, 2017-11-10
By Robert McCabe
The Virginian-Pilot

To comment on plan Email Kimberly.C.Koelsch@usace. army.mil or send letters to Kimberly Koelsch C/O The Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 803 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510.

NORFOLK

It’s official: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released a draft feasibility study recommending the advancement of a nearly $322 million project to dredge the port’s main shipping channels to at least 55 feet.

If all goes as planned, the Port of Hampton Roads would have shipping channels deeper and wider than the Port of Los Angeles, the busiest port in the nation, where the channels are 53 feet deep and the main channel about 1,000 feet wide.

The projected cost would be $321.9 million, split between the federal government and the state: about $146.9 million – 45.6 percent – on the federal side and $175 million – 54.4 percent – on the state side.

The Army Corps, which oversees dredging projects nationwide, is recommending the deepening of the Atlantic Ocean Channel – the approach to the port from the ocean – to 59 feet from 52 feet.

The Thimble Shoal Channel, which northbound motorists pass under when crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, would be deepened to 56 feet from 50 feet and widened to 1,200 feet from 1 ,000 feet.

All three of the region’s bridge-tunnels dip at least 63 feet below the surface, enabling them to accommodate the deeper channels, according to the study.

The Army Corps is also working on a parallel project to deepen sections of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River to anywhere from 44 feet to 39 feet, from about 40 feet and 35 feet.

Port officials had sought the OK to dredge to 45 feet in some areas, which it could still do, though local funds would pay for the extra foot of depth.

The costs for the Southern Branch project have been estimated to be between $130 million and $140 million, with the federal government paying 75 percent and the state paying 25 percent.

The full report on that project is expected to be posted online later this month.

The 55-foot project numbers posted late Wednesday are the same as those announced at a port wide “navigational summit” in September, though the public is being invited to weigh in on the recommendations.

The comment period runs until Dec. 9.

The posting, along with an environmental assessment, 10 appendices and four water-quality reports, runs more than 1,700 pages. It can be found at http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/About/Projects/Norfolk-Harbor-Channel-Deepening .

Even if the project gets all green lights from the Army Corps and from Congress – which needs to reauthorize it – the project still would have hurdles to clear and could be affected by the federal appropriations process.

The Army Corps will adopt a final feasibility study sometime during the summer of 2018. By year’s end, it will make a formal recommendation to Congress for inclusion in a future Water Resources Development Act .

Once it gets congressional authorization, the next step would be to seek federal funding .

The port has had congressional authorization to dredge to 55 feet since 1986, but has to seek new authorization to go any deeper .

Georgia Ports Authority officials were planning to go to Capitol Hill this week to push for more federal funding to deepen the Savannah River from 42 feet to 47 feet, according to The Atlanta Journal- Constitution.

In April, the project’s costs grew 38 percent to $973 million, the paper reported.

While the state has contributed $266 million to get the project going, there are concerns about what is now a $640 million federal share, according to the newspaper.

In May, the Trump administration budget committed $50 million to the dredging project, up from $43 million a year earlier, but the project needs about $100 million a year to stay on track, according to port boosters, as cited in the Journal-Constitution report.

Because the Savannah River channel isn’t deep enough to handle the new generation of container ships fully loaded, the port isn’t getting as much cargo as shippers would like to bring there, according to Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, the paper reported.

Robert McCabe, 757-446-2327, robert.mccabe@pilotonline.com



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