Businesses anxious for Miami River dredging to resume
By Deserae del Campo
Supporters of efforts to restart and complete dredging of the Miami River say getting rid of tons of contaminated sediments gives the project huge environmental value. Adding to that value, they say, is the increased draw the river will be to shippers, marine businesses and residential developers once the waterway is cleaner and more navigable.
Work was stopped in late 2005 after funds ran short. Though the work is expected to resume soon, the project's completion is dependent on available funds. The US Army Corps of Engineers says it expects dredging to resume between July and September with $3.5 million. After that runs out, dredging is expected to halt again until at least Oct. 1.
Contractors hired for the project have removed 240,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the river's bottom since September 2004, along the way finding 16 handguns, some cars and a few boats.
Although the first maintenance dredging project is only 40% complete, the economic and environmental impacts associated with dredging the 5.5-mile Miami River are expected to be considerable, supporters say.
Approximately 16,000 residential units are in the pipeline for land along the river. Also expected are 19 restaurants along its banks.
In addition, the shipping industry says a deeper draft will enable it to carry increased cargo volumes from Biscayne Bay. Currently, ships can only carry up to 50% of their cargo capacity and must wait for high tide to navigate the river.
The river averaged 11 feet in depth when the dredging started in 2004. Removing the polluted sediment would restore the river to a designated 15-foot federal navigable channel.
"Ships that are loaded with cargo can only go out at high tide," said Beau Payne, owner of P&L Towing. "Sometimes the ships bump the bottom of the river and stir the sediments, forcing the ship to move in a different direction and making it hard to control. In maritime terms, it's called feeling the bottom."
The dredging started at Northwest 36th Street, near Miami International Airport, and stopped west of the Southwest 17th Avenue Bridge late last year.
The Corps of Engineers' $80 million contract with Weston Solutions and Bean Environmental calls for dredging to the river's mouth at Biscayne Bay.
One longtime shipyard company along the Miami River is anticipating the completion of the dredging in time for its $40 million expansion project.
Merrill-Stevens, near the Northwest 12 Street Bridge, is the oldest running shipyard business in Florida. The river has been the home of the boatyard since 1923.
Jones Boat Yard, with more than 1,200 feet of bulkhead waterfront, also is along the river.
Mark Bailey, vice president of external affairs for Merrill-Stevens, said the dredging will be key to the boatyard's plans for brining mega-yachts up the river for servicing. "We have a $40 million expansion and moderation plan under way on the Miami River," he said. "The design plans to meet the needs of the mega-yacht industry."
The expansion and renovation to the Miami River shipyard will allow the company to service 250-foot mega-yachts, Mr. Bailey said. The project will also include a marine trades training center, he said.
Currently, the boatyard employs 160 people, but with the expansion, the workforce will jump to more than 500. But until the dredging is finished, the mega-yachts may have trouble coming in from the bay, Mr. Bailey said.
"The US Army Corps of Engineers has calculated the economic impact of the Miami River, but they have overlooked the impact of recreational boating and focused primarily on cargo traffic," he said.
Mr. Bailey said the company is working on its own economic-impact study that looks at the impact of the recreational industry along the river. "We are trying to highlight that industry," he said.
The federal government has spent $27.65 million to dredge the river, the state $5.39 million, the Florida Inland Navigation District $1.23 million, Miami-Dade County $2.56 million and the City of Miami $1.98 million.
A letter-writing campaign is under way to close the funding gap.
The effort to secure $24 million in federal cost share funds from Congress has been initiated by area state legislators, county and City of Miami officials, officials of the South Florida Water Management District, Miami River marine industrial business owners, developers and officials of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami River Marine Group, the Marine Industrial Association of South Florida, the Marine Council and the Miami River Commission.