River Dredging Will Be Resumed With 35 Million Us Grant
Written by Eric Kalis on April 19, 2007
By Eric Kalis
Congress awarded $3.5 million last week for the US Army Corps of Engineers to resume a $74 million Miami River dredging project, river officials say.
The congressional appropriation, with $3.5 million awarded in 2006, leaves the corps with enough funding to initiate the next two phases of dredging as soon as July, river officials say. The corps completed six of 15 phases before work was stopped in late 2005 as funds were depleted.
"This $3.5 million will be crucial to the continued dredging of the Miami River and overall health of this important waterway," said US Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, a dredging proponent. "A clean and deep river will ensure that our South Florida community continues to grow economically and provide the necessary jobs that are crucial for our economy. I applaud this effort, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the river’s appropriations for 2008."
The most recent federal funding provides a short-term fix for the corps, said Eric Buermann, chairman of the Miami River Commission Dredging Committee, who said about $26 million will be needed to complete the project. It will take corps contractors up to two months to mobilize before work can resume, he said, so obtaining further funds is critical.
Having $7 million in available federal funds "does not move the ball far enough down the field to do more than a couple of sections," he said. "We are trying to put the funding into place so the corps can stay in the river for a long time. It is very expensive to demobilize."
An urgency to finish dredging is further intensified by the expiration of the corps’ contract in April 2009, leaving only two federal budget cycles to make up the funding difference, Mr. Buermann said.
The current contract is based on 2004 prices per cubic yard removed, river officials say. If the contract expires, a new deal would be much more expensive and require further contributions from federal, state and local officials, Mr. Buermann said.
"The clock is ticking on the contract," Mr. Buermann said. "It may seem like a long way from now, but time is getting away from us. If the contract expired, instead of needing $26 million, we might need four times as much."
Project proponents say completing the project would result in a cargo trade boom, commercial and residential development and 350 jobs at the Merrill-Stevens ship-repair yard. Merrill-Stevens plans to build a $55 million facility to repair 250-foot mega-yachts once dredging is completed.
Leaving the project incomplete would make the efforts of the past few years "useless," Mr. Buermann said.
River officials are working on several funding options. The Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management has requested $13.8 million from the state for the project. River officials say they are exploring federal grant opportunities and an advanced funding agreement in which local officials would pay the remaining federal cost share with hopes — but no guarantee — of being reimbursed later.
The Miami River is the fourth-busiest seaport in the state in terms of cargo tonnage, river officials say.