Corps Gives Recommendation For Port Dredging
The long-stalled $157 million Port of Miami harbor dredging appears back on track after receiving a favorable recommendation from the US Army Corps of Engineers on funding legislation to be considered by the Senate.
The dredging is considered vital to the port’s ability to
accommodate larger ships, port officials say. Though the corps has endorsed the funding legislation, some issues must be resolved before the bill comes up for a vote, a port official said.
Andria Muniz, a port spokeswoman, said the recommendation issued recently by John Paul Woodley Jr., the corps’ assistant secretary, is an "important milestone" in the bid to win passage for the Water Resources Development Act, which would fund port dredging for 2006-07. She noted, though, that while a House version of the bill was passed last summer, passage of the Senate’s bill is not a certainty. "We will continue to work with industry representatives to assist in securing support for the bill’s approval," she said. "While this obviously demonstrates some progress, it may be some time before the bill reaches the Senate floor."
The project would cost a total $157 million, which includes $63 million in federal and $93 million in state and local funds. It is needed to accommodate 1,000-foot Super Panamax-class ships, which is the trend in shipbuilding, Ms. Muniz said. The current generation of these ships can call upon the port, but the concern is that the next generation of vessels will be too big.
"This is not for the current ships coming in. Right now we have a draft of 42-feet and we are able to accommodate them. This is for the ships being built in the future, which need much larger drafts. The trend right now is, the larger the ship, the better, so we need to be able to accommodate this trend in years to come," she said.
Mr. Woodley’s report recommends lowering the depth of the port’s South Channel and Central Turning Basin to 50 feet and the entrance channel to Government Cut to 52 feet. It also recommends realigning the western end of the existing 36-foot main channel about 250 feet to the south, a portion that requires no dredging.
The report ruled out a "no-action alternative" and other options it said did not offer "reasonable solutions" for the problem.
However, the report did say questions were raised about the environmental impact of the project, but generally dismissed concerns that right whales might be endangered. It said blasting "may affect, (but were) not likely to adversely affect" manatees, and that concerns over the habitats of pink shrimp, white shrimp, spiny lobster and lane snapper had been properly evaluated.
"The recommended plan is not the environmentally preferable plan, but is the one that delivers substantial benefits in a cost effective manner while meeting the overall federal and state objectives and incorporates features to avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse environmental and social effects," Mr. Woodley’s report said.
The funding legislation, which would authorize the Phase III dredging, didn’t pass last year because it took a back seat to difficult issues such as damages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf region. In the meantime, however, Phase II of the port dredging project, stalled since 1999, resumed last year and was completed.