Feds say PortMiami’s deeper harbor isn’t deep enough
After three major upgrades to Port Miami’s channels to handle ever-bigger ships, including a $205 million project that ended in 2015, a fourth round of digging may be needed because the improved harbor is outdated, federal officials say.
The US Army Corps of Engineers will study improvements to PortMiami, with a public meeting highlighting alternatives and a plan expected by 2020, spokesperson Susan Jackson told Miami Today.
The 2018 Work Plan for the Miami Harbor Safety and Navigational Channel Improvements Program at PortMiami includes $556,250 to start the study, which adheres to the corps’ rule requiring completion within three years, no more than $3 million in federal cost and concurrent review at the corps’ district, division and headquarters levels.
Total project costs aren’t yet known, Ms. Jackson wrote.
Pilots assisting ships navigating the harbor are having trouble maneuvering larger ships – some with cargo capacities of 11,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units), according to Ms. Jackson. With freighters of up to 14,000 TEUs now on the seas, she said, these troubles will only worsen.
Cruise liners are also constrained, she wrote. Many can’t pass containerships docked while being loaded, causing delays. Improvements would increase efficiency, cruise industry growth and allow more numerous cruise vessel berths, she said.
Visiting vessels now demand to schedule weeks in advance to determine arrival conditions, and their greater size requires precise accommodation for nautical measurements, she said.
“As the port continues to increase its capacity, this feasibility study…is another important step to further serve our current customers and respond effectively to the next generation of cruise and cargo business,” said Port Director Juan Kurlya.
On March 26, Mr. Kurlya requested the corps study, including deepening and widening the outer channel, widening the Lummus Island turning basin and widening the south shipping channel.
The corps would conduct and manage expansions, he wrote, complementing upgrades that began in 2012 and concluded in September 2015 and cost $205.6 million, according to corps documents. That project deepened and widened the Fisher Island turning basin, relocated the west end of the main channel and deepened and widened Fisherman’s Channel and the Lummus Island turning basin. At that point depths were cited as 48 to 52 feet.
A corps initial appraisal found federal interest in the current study and, after speaking with the Biscayne Bay Pilots chairman, Capt. Jonathan Nitkin, used ship simulations for research. A month later, the corps’ higher headquarters approved the appraisal.
Improvements to PortMiami began in 1990, when Congress authorized deepening and expansion to 42 feet, a project completed three years later.
A $40 million upgrade of the south harbor was completed between June 2005 and July 2006.
In February 2004, the corps used the Susan Mærsk, a 1,140 foot, 6,000 TEU freighter, as its model to determine optimum depth. The Mærsk’s minimum clearance between the deepest point of the ship and the bottom of the port was set at three feet.
Many larger vessels today, Ms. Jackson wrote, exceed that depth.