Higher Costs Slow Port Miami Dredging
By Scott Blake
A contractor for the Port Miami dredging project was announced last week, about two months behind schedule due to an earlier mistake by the US Army Corps of Engineers in setting the cost limits of the contract, according to the seaport’s director.
Great Lakes Dock and Dredge has been awarded the contract to dredge. The announcement had been expected in March, but was delayed because the Army Corps did not adjust the value of the contract for inflation and the bids came in too high. So the contract had to be rearranged and broken into three parts, said Port Miami Director Bill Johnson, who has spearheaded the project.
"The bids came in higher and the project was at a standstill," he explained.
Dredging is now slated to start in August. Meeting its original goal, the work still should be completed in time for the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, Mr. Johnson said.
The project will deepen the county seaport’s shipping channel to accommodate the larger cargo container vessels that will come through the Panama Canal. Mr. Johnson and other officials have maintained the deeper shipping lane will help boost Greater Miami’s cargo output for years to come.
He said completing the dredging on time is important because it will make Port Miami the only seaport south of Virginia to have a shipping channel that is 50 feet deep, and down to 52 feet in some spots, giving Miami an advantage over other ports in the Southeast.
According to Mr. Johnson, the project got complicated when the Army Corps set the cost of the dredging at $181.5 million in 2004. But three years passed before Congress authorized the project in 2007, and, after that, the maximum cost should have been adjusted to more than $200 million, but the original figure stood.
He said Great Lakes and another company submitted the two bids for the project in January and they turned out to be too high, so, in order to avoid a long delay, the contract had to be restructured.
The current cost estimate for the project is about $206 million. The first piece of the contract announced last week is worth about $122 million, and will cover the dredging of the port’s entrance area at the east end of the project and environmental mitigation measures, Mr. Johnson said.
He said Great Lakes also will be the contractor the second part of the job and is anticipated to be the contractor for the third phase as well.
The second phase, called Option A, basically will involve dredging at the west end of the project near the port’s cargo docks. The third piece, called Option B, will involve the middle area of the dredging, he said.
So far, he said, the Port Miami dredging is unique among such projects because it has received no federal funding. Up to this point, the funding has been roughly divided between the county and the state, he added.
The state has yet to provide all of the money that it has committed to the project, but those payments are expected to be received by July 2014, Mr. Johnson said. In the meantime, he added, officials will continue to pursue federal dollars for the project and, if successful, will reimburse the state for whatever the difference turns out to be.
The only contractual issue that remains unsettled is whether the federal government or the county will issue the contract for the project’s third phase, Mr. Johnson said.
"We may have to go before the [Miami-Dade County] commissioners" to get approval to finish the project, he said.
In addition to the contractual complications, the project had faced another delay when local environmentalists filed a petition with the state to block the project due to their concerns about the impact on Biscayne Bay. However, the two sides came to an agreement and the petition was dropped.
In last week’s announcement, county Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the contract award a "major milestone" for Port Miami.
Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa added that the port is "well-positioned to capture new trade opportunities, especially with Asian nations, thanks to investments in Port Miami’s infrastructure — the importance of the dredge project cannot be overstated."To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.