Congress has plan to deepen channels at Port of Miami
By Claudio Mendonça
A $170 million three-year effort to deepen waterways near the Port of Miami to accommodate the world's largest container ships is working its way through Congress.
The project of the port and the Army Corps of Engineers would allow freighters that already call at the port to bring in significantly larger loads, increasing trade through Miami.
The aim is to dredge from 38 feet to 50 feet the south channel entrance to the mouth of Miami Harbor near south Miami Beach. The plan includes dredging of Fisherman's Channel off the Lummus Island turning basin.
The Corps of Engineers, charged with keeping shipping channels open, approved the project and asked Congress for funds.
"The project is under evaluation review to be recommended and to request authorization in order to secure funding," said Luis Rene Perez, the corps' project manager for Miami Harbor.
A deeper channel would enable Miami to be the last or first port of call on the East Coast, said Becky Hope, port environmental manager. "Right now, ships from China are coming in lightly loaded because we cannot accommodate bigger vessels," Ms. Hope said. "A deeper channel allows ships to get more cargo."
Dredging would accommodate the largest container ships afloat. The port now can handle 900-foot-long, 91-foot-wide Panamax vessels that handle 4,600 20-foot containers. With dredging, it could receive post-Panamax ships averaging 1,000 feet long and 144 feet wide. Some of the largest post-Panamax vessels are 1,130 feet long and 147 feet wide and carry 6,600 20-foot containers.
The project is awaiting passage of the Water Resources Development Act. Once Congress passes the act, the corps can open bidding to contractors.
An aide to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami said he was unsure if the act will pass this year. It passed the House in late 2003, but differences between the House bill and the Senate version hampered passage last year.
While the act remains under discussion, the port is moving ahead with a similar but smaller project - a $40 million second phase of a deepening of the south channel and Lummus Island turning basin to 42 feet.
"We are the local sponsor for the project," said port director Charles Towsley. "We have a cooperative agreement in which the federal government pays for 60% and the county matches with the remaining amount."
Great Lakes Dredging Co. of Chicago won the contract for that project in September. The first phase began in the early 1990s.
Citing links to 98,000 jobs and an economic impact of $12 billion, the port handled 9 million tons of cargo in 2003 - including 1 million 20-foot containers.
"Historically, the port has outgrown our projections and outperformed growth," Mr. Towsley said. "In past years, we've been exceeding projections by 200%."