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American ShipperIntermodal

Port Everglades gets federal approval for 50-ft. harbor

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the port dredging project, paving the way for the engineering and design phase.

   Port Everglades on Friday reached another milestone in its 19-year journey to deepen and widen its main shipping channel and turning basin when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a Chief’s Report, which approved the project and made it eligible for authorization by Congress in the near future.
   Formal approval by the Corps of Engineers allows the South Florida port to move ahead with pre-construction and engineering.
   Everglades, the largest container port in Florida, is racing to keep pace with Port Miami, where a similar project to dredge its harbor to 50 feet is on track to be completed this summer, and the Port of Jacksonville to the north. JAXPORT is in the middle of the design phase for dredging the St. Johns River from 40 to 47 feet.
   During its last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30, Port Everglades handled 1 million TEUs. Last year, the port opened an intermodal container transfer facility on the backside of its property to make rail connections more efficient.
   The South Florida port’s $374 million harbor project would deepen the entrance channel from 42 feet to 50 feet, allowing Everglades to compete for businesses from the largest container vessels calling along the East Coast. Vessels with a capacity for up to 12,500 TEUs will be able to reach the East Coast from Asia once the expanded section of the Panama Canal opens to traffic next year, although many analysts expect the workhorse vessels on that trade lane to initially be in the 9,000-TEU range. Port Everglades already handles post-Panamax vessels from Europe and South America that currently carry less cargo to sit higher in the water, but the extra depth will enable vessels to transit the harbor fully loaded.
   Although Congress has yet to authorize the project, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act signed by President Obama last summer includes a provision allowing projects with pending Chief’s Reports to be pre-authorized, so local sponsors can pay for engineering and design, and be eligible for reimbursement or credit against project costs if Congress authorizes the project in a future water resources bill.
   The managers amendment to permit pre-engineering work was considered crucial by Broward County and Florida officials because otherwise the project would have been held up until Congress passed the next reauthorization bill, which is not expected until 2016 at the earliest. Local officials would then still need to go through the appropriations process to get funding, which is parceled out over several years.
   Port Everglades officials originally sought a 50-foot channel to accommodate next-generation container ships and large petroleum tankers, but an Army Corps cost-benefit analysis determined that the national economic gain for businesses and consumers, consistent with environmental protection, was optimized at a channel depth of 47 feet. The port authority’s preferred option is to expand the dredging project to 48 feet, which would give the port an effective depth of 50 feet because an extra foot of over depth is required to be built into the project design, and another foot of margin is allowed under Army Corps rules.
   The Army Corps has said it will approve Port Everglades’ plan as long as it pays the difference in cost. Last August, the Broward County Board of Commissioners voted to pay an additional $18 million for the locally preferred deepening option. 
   “Port Everglades is a giant economic engine for South Florida. The port must modernize and expand or the new current day cargo ships will pass us by – taking with them thousands of new jobs and over $30 million of economic impact each year,” Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said in a statement.
   The project includes deepening and widening parts of the Intracoastal Waterway so that cargo ships can pass safely by docked cruise ships.
   The initial project study was authorized by Congress in 1996.
   A key environmental component of the approved plan includes planting approximately 103,000 new nursery-raised corals in 18 acres of existing reef areas, relocating approximately 11,500 existing corals to create two acres of artificial reef, creating three acres of artificial reef habitat for natural recruitment to replace nearly 15 acres of existing hard-bottom reef habitat.
   The environmental mitigation plan, which has contributed to a $21 million increase in estimated costs for the project since August, includes restoring seagrasses and mangroves in West Lake Park, and building environmentally friendly bulkheads throughout the Southport Access Channel.
   The Port Everglades dredging project is expected to be paid for through port user fees, federal appropriations and state grants.

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