Long-delayed dredging of Biscayne Bay could resume soon
By Susan Stabley
The delayed dredging of Biscayne Bay could resume next year, but plans to make the Port of Miami one of the deepest in the state is still years away, according the US Army Corps of Engineers.
A current project to deepen the port's south channel from 34 feet to 42 feet and its turning basin started in November 1994 but was halted after problems with contractors from January 1997 to February 1999 and then from August 1999 to now.
One stumbling block in the existing work has been rock at the bottom of the bay that damaged a past contractor's equipment, said Luis R. Perez, the Army Corps project manager. Further delays are a result of the corps having to secure permission for using underwater explosives to break through the stone, he said.
Blasting would only be done in the early morning and late afternoon, he said. Special care would be given, he said, to preserve marine mammals as an area four times larger than the blasting zone would be monitored by boat and helicopter to prevent any danger to the creatures.
"It's a method that has been used in several rivers throughout the state and in Puerto Rico's San Juan harbor," he said.
The dredged material would then either be deposited in an offshore site six miles out in the ocean or, pending a contract with the City of Miami, at Virginia Key, where dredged material has been dumped in past projects.
The corps expects to clear out more than a million cubic yards of material out of the harbor, largely rock, clay and silt. About 20,000 cubic yards of that would be sandy material fit for beach re-nourishment, he said.
The final plans are now being reviewed at the corps' headquarters in Washington for final approval,. Within the next few months, a request for bids from contractors should go out, he said.
The port has additional plans for a second round of dredging to take the channel to a depth of 50 feet. That project is in its early planning stages, he said.
Deepening the harbor is essential to keeping the Port of Miami competitive, said Jorge Rovirosa, Port of Miami Terminal Operating Co. general manager.
Having a harbor as deep as 50 feet would make the Port of Miami a hub center similar to Freeport and far deeper than Broward County's Port Everglades or Georgia's Port of Savannah.
"As vessels get bigger and bigger, they are looking to go to hub centers. They're not going to make a call at every port," said Mr. Rovirosa.
The corps is putting together comments from the public and other agencies regarding the deeper dredging and is to release a report at the end of July. Mr. Perez said it was too soon to say when that project would move forward. Funds are not yet secured.
Mr. Perez declined to release estimates for both projects because both go through a bidding process. Past county estimates have put port dredging at $50 million to $60 million for work that would last two to four years.