Port Dredging Project Stuck In Us Senate
By Claudio Mendonca
A dredging project around the Port of Miami is entangled in the US Senate in red tape and issues involving Hurricane Katrina.
As port officials aim to accommodate 1,000-foot Super Panamax-class ships, the US House and Senate aren’t on the same page on the Water Resources Development Act, the bill that would fund port dredging for 2006-07.
The act didn’t pass the Senate this year because it took a back seat to difficult issues such as damages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf States, said Towner French, an aide to US Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. A US Army Corps of Engineers report on the need for dredging awaits congressional authorization and appropriation.
One option for passage of the act next year, Mr. French said, is to fragment the bill and pass one part at a time. That decision, he said, must be made by the House Transportation Committee and the Water Subcommittee to authorize not only dredging in port waters but Everglades projects.
Even though the local congressional delegation is considering breaking the bill apart, Mr. French said, Rep. Diaz-Balart’s goal is to get the whole package through.
If the act doesn’t pass next year, Mr. French said, the bill would have to be re-introduced in January 2007. Even if it doesn’t pass, he said, the Corps of Engineers has the flexibility to move dollars from other projects. "We still have some available funding for environmental projects, and we can move them around to different projects," Mr. French said.
Even if the act passes next year, said Port of Miami spokeswoman Andria Muniz, it would take at least five years to complete the dredging project – one year for permitting, six months for advertising for bids and at least three years of deepening port waterways.
In the meantime, the port will receive funds through the US Army Corps of Engineers’ district that extends from Jacksonville to Miami. The funds stem from the Energy & Water appropriations law. Of the allocated $3.6 million, about $1.4 million would go for dredging work around the port.
"Our mission is to take care of the port, the Everglades and all water projects in the state," said Mr. French. While projects await authorization from Congress, the Corps of Engineers completed an earlier phase of the port’s dredging program Nov. 18, deepening from 38 to 42 feet the harbor’s turning basin and fisherman’s channel.