Port of Miami dredging project nearly completed
By Claudio Mendonça
A dredging project that will enable the Port of Miami to handle larger ships is nearly complete. Waterways near the port have been deepened from 38 to 42 feet in the project that started in 1994.
But the port still won't be able to accommodate the largest cargo vessels. For the port to handle the massive Super Panamax vessels, the turning basin would need to be deepened to 50 feet. That work would require a report by the Army Corps of Engineers, passage of the Water Resources Development Act, in limbo since 2002, and authorization by Congress.
Port Director Charles Towsley said the current dredging project should be finished by year's end. He said a deepening of the turning basin to 50 feet should come within five years.
Ships classified as Panamax have maximum dimensions that fit through the locks of the Panama Canal, each of which is 1,000 feet long, 110 feet wide and 85 feet deep. According to the Corps of Engineers, a Panamax usually is close to 965 feet long, 106 feet wide and 39.5 feet deep.
Panamax container ships can carry 2,500 to 4,500 20-foot containers. Post-Panamax ships, which exceed the size of the Panama Canal, can reach 1,130 feet in length and carry more than 7,000 containers.
One waterway deepened is Fisherman's channel, south of the port. Because it is a federal channel, the Corps of Engineers has been supervising, inspecting and managing contracts.
The Corps of Engineers awarded Phase II of the project to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. to complete deepening of Fisherman's channel and the central turning basin. That will enable the port to handle larger vessels, said Luis Perez, a senior project manager for the corps in Jacksonville.
After congressional authorization in 1990, Phase I of the dredging was done in 1992 and 1993. Phase II began in November 1994, but dredging was interrupted when Dutra Construction Inc. filed for bankruptcy and abandoned the project, leaving 1 million cubic yards unfinished.
"Dredging is our No. 1 concern," said Towner French, an aide to US Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
The bill for further dredging of the turning basin would make $120 million available, subject to authorization. The port would receive $64 million from the federal government and $56 million from local governments. The Water Resources Development Act has been held up in the Senate, Mr. French said. The House version passed in 2003, in 2004 and again in April.
"The bill was supposed to be re-authorized in 2002, but it never happened," Mr. French said. "We have been in talks with the House's Transportation Committee and are hopeful the bill might get through the Senate in 2005. We have been working with the Senate side to remove any concerns."
Following passage, the bill would go through a congressional conference committee. If approved by both houses, it would go to the president, who could sign it into law.
Mr. Towsley said an extensive environmental study preceded the current dredging. As required by the Corps of Engineers, numerous steps were taken to protect marine wildlife, especially from Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co.'s blasting procedures.
"The deepening of the south channel and the central turning basin will deliver important economy benefits to South Florida," Mr. Towsley said, "without jeopardizing the long-term health of the bay."