River dredging expected to resume in new fiscal year
By Sherri C. Ranta
Dredging of the Miami River is expected to be started again late this year when state and federal funds become available.
Worked stopped in December when funds ran out, but local officials hope the next round of funding will allow the project to go forward beginning late this year, said Brett Bibeau, managing director of the Miami River Commission. The US Army Corps of Engineers budgeted the $74 million project to take up to five years ending in 2009.
"They were going so efficiently, so smoothly, that they dredged 40% of the river" in about a year, Mr. Bibeau said. "We spent the appropriated funding a bit faster than anticipated, and that's why we have this small gap."
If the remaining cost share is made available in next year's budget, Mr. Bibeau said, dredgers indicate they possibly could complete the remaining 3 miles of the river next year.
"If that doesn't happen," he said, "the project will likely remain on track for a 2009 completion."
Workers have removed 240,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the 5.5-mile river. When work resumes, it will be east of the 22nd Avenue bridge. The Miami River will be 15 feet deep in the federally navigable channel when the project is complete, Mr. Bibeau said. The channel now runs 9-11 feet deep, he said, making it impossible for shippers to operate at maximum capacity or at low tide.
The informal port of Miami River, with 26 privately owned shipping terminals, is considered the fourth-largest port in the state. Ships take cargo to and from the shallow-water ports of the Caribbean. A federal impact study released last year found that completed dredging will generate an additional $100 million in revenue over the next 20 years.
The impact is already being felt, Mr. Bibeau said. Veteran Miami River boat-yard business Merrill-Stevens is planning a $40 million expansion that includes installation of a 2,500-ton lift capable of pulling 250-foot super yachts out of the river.
"The larger yachts were unable to access the river's historic boats yards," Mr. Bibeau said, "because they had a draft that was closer to the 15-foot depth."
The river's largest shipper, Antillean Marine Shipping Co., acquired a new ship, Habib Express, considered the largest and fastest on the river. Two new shipping terminals are open on the river.
Residential projects are also changing the face of the river, Mr. Bibeau said. About 13,000 residential units, in various stages of development and construction, are slated for the river's banks, primarily in the downtown area. Nineteen new restaurants are also in different phases along the river, he said.
"The public perception is that Miami River is being restored as the pristine water body flowing through the urban core," he said. "I really think the dredging project was a major stimulus of other development. It turned around public perception."
Dredging began in September 2004 at the Salinity Dam near Miami International Airport. The river was last dredged in the 1930s.
Since the project began, workers have found 16 handguns, a few old cars, small boats, bowling balls and the spine of an alligator. All guns and bones are turned over to the police. The contaminated sediment is trucked to a appropriate landfills.