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Crews Dredge Up Economy While Deepening PortMiami

Approximately 33,000 new jobs are expected to be created as a result of the project.

Wed January 08, 2014 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Situated in the Biscayne Bay and home to many protected, threatened and endangered species, PortMiami is undergoing a major dredging that’s expected to create 33,000 new jobs, double cargo throughput and increase its annual economic impact to more than $34 billion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is overseeing the dramatic undertaking, which should be completed in the next 18 months.

“With a project of this magnitude, there are many challenges and components to balance, including environmental monitoring, safety and the loosening and removal of rock, which requires specialty equipment that is rare, expensive and requires specialized expertise to operate and maintain,” said Laurel Reichold, project manager of USACE. “Miami Harbor is a very active port, and poses many logistical challenges of accomplishing the job without disruption of service.

PortMiami will be one of only three U.S. Atlantic ports to be at 50 ft. (15.2 m) when the expanded Panama Canal opens in 2015. The deeper depth means PortMiami can accommodate larger Post-Panamax vessels. As the closest U.S. port to Panama, PortMiami also expects to benefit from increased Asian trade. The channel widening features are necessary to maintain safe navigation.

“This project has several widening components that are needed to counter balance hydrodynamic forces that pose navigational safety risks to existing port traffic,” said Reichold. “Congressionally authorized channel deepening is economically driven by the method and the cost of delivering goods and services to the nation. With the ongoing expansion of the Panama Canal, high opportunity costs and economic efficiencies of larger cargo and container ships being able to carry more goods faster through the canal now exists.

“In order for the larger ships to call on U.S. East Coast ports, the port channels need to be sufficiently deep,” said Reichold. “This deepening project was specifically authorized to accommodate this growth and trend of larger ships delivering goods and services to the nation.”

Dredging to deepen the Port’s main harbor channel began in late November 2013. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company LLC, the selected contractor for the project, began mobilizing its dredging equipment that same month, including the hopper dredge, Terrapin Island, which has commenced dredging operations in the Port’s outer channel.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the start-up a “major milestone” for all of Florida that will benefit from increased trade opportunities once the expanded Panama Canal opens.

“PortMiami will be the closest U.S. port to the Panama Canal able to accommodate the mega size cargo vessels that require a 50 foot depth when at full capacity,” Gimenez said. “New trade opportunities translate into new jobs. The Deep Dredge will create thousands of permanent and well-paying jobs throughout the region.”

PortMiami director Bill Johnson credited Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature for moving the Deep Dredge Project forward. The state is contributing $112 million to funding the $220 million project, and Miami-Dade County’s share totals $108 million.

“PortMiami will be big ship ready when the expanded Panama Canal opens in less than two years,” Johnson said. “The importance of the dredging project cannot be overstated.”

Johnson said this is the first time that non-federal dollars are funding a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

“We are grateful to the vision of our state and local leaders in moving this critical infrastructure improvement project forward,” Johnson said. “The investment in the deep dredge will pay dividends in years to come, making Florida an even more powerful player in the global marketplace.”

In addition to the significant economic impact, Johnson said the dredging project would follow the highest environmental standards.

The project includes the restoration of more than 16 acres of seagrass in Biscayne Bay and the creation of nine acres of artificial reef. In order to minimize impact on existing resources, the Port’s mitigation measures include the relocation of hard coral colonies. Additionally, divers will be on site to monitor natural resources for turbidity and sedimentation effects before and during all dredging activities.

The excavation will result in the removal of approximately 2.1 million cu. yds. (1.6 million cu m) of material. Materials that are not used to create the environmental mitigation sites will be transported to the ocean dredged material disposal site.

The project was authorized by Congress in 1990 and initially involved deepening the Miami Harbor entrance channel from 38 to 44 ft. (11.6 to 13.4 m) and the inner harbor from 36 to 42 ft. (11 to 12.8 m). The current deepening was authorized by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 and involves deepening the outer federal channel to 52 ft. (15.8 m) and the inner channel to 50 ft. (15.2 m). Work on the latest dredging was delayed by about two months, giving officials time to complete environmental resource surveys and other paperwork.

“All tasks of this project are crucial from environmental monitoring to dredging, to ensuring top-notch safety protocols are in place,” said Reichold. “The loosening and removal of rock is an example of a crucial task to be performed. The rock will be cut down to size and then it will be suctioned off of the bottom and placed into barges. It will then be taken to the ocean disposal area, where the barges will open and drop the rock in several hundred feet of water. This operation will require specialty equipment that is not easily found. This equipment is quite expensive and requires a lot of expertise to operate and maintain.”

Eight years ago, Great Lakes deepened the channel to 42 ft. (12.8 m) with the same equipment used for phase three. The key will be for the equipment to operate effectively and efficiently, while minimizing any impacts to the surrounding environment. Before the dredging began, Great Lakes mobilized engineering and project staff to Miami and prepped equipment.

“Our crews typically stay with the dredges as they travel from job to job, so they are experienced and talented,” said William Hanson, vice president of Great Lakes. “The equipment is maintained with the latest automation technology to help the operators be as efficient in their operations as possible. The fact that we completed a smaller version of this job in 2005 is helpful, but this particular deepening has its own specific challenges, mostly owing to the scale of the project and the complex operating conditions working in an active operating port.”

Crews will primarily use the hopper dredge Terrapin Island and the cutter suction dredge Texas. Other equipment may be used during the project. Previous work has involved bucket dredges, drillboats, spider barge loaders and material barges, as well as workboats, tugs, and numerous pieces of support plant.

More than anything, Reichold said communication is crucial as work gets under way.

“Outreach and early coordination is key,” said Reichold. “Miami Harbor is a very active port, and poses many logistical challenges of accomplishing the job without disruption of service. Working with the construction contractor, the Port, the USCG and Biscayne Bay Harbor pilots helps to open lines of communication to ensure all stakeholders remain on the same page.”

The project has a hefty price tag, which Reichold says can be difficult to pinpoint.

“The Federal Acquisition Regulation requires that when we solicit bids for a contract, we disclose the magnitude of the project in terms of physical characteristics and price range, without disclosing the government’s exact estimate. The defense federal acquisition regulation supplement provides parameters, and the government estimate in terms of the physical characteristics for this project fell within the defined price range of $100 million to $250 million.”

The construction area is within an active channel, including both cruise and cargo in over half the project. This aspect of the project was built into the contract and the project scope.

“Constant communication and coordination between the USACE, the USCG, the Biscayne Bay harbor pilot and the contractor will be required and is underway,” said Reichold. “This project includes an excellent plan to meet these challenges and all partners are committed to see everything through.”

“In preparation for this dredge project, the Port started outreach efforts to stakeholders, Biscayne Bay pilots, the U.S. Coast Guard and others,” said Becky Hope, manager of PortMiami’s deepening project. “We feel it’s important to keep everyone updated with the project, have an open line of communication and ensure all parties are part of the coordination effort throughout.

“It’s anticipated the contractor will begin dredging in the outer channels, while creating artificial reefs and building the seagrass restoration area. Over 1,300 corals will also be relocating during this base work. The contract’s options are anticipated to be awarded in January 2014, which will allow the contractor to dredge the inner channel area as well. The total contract is expected to take approximately two years.”

As with many massive construction projects, the minimization of environmental impacts can’t be stressed enough, especially when dealing with vulnerable species.

“This includes the Florida manatee, five sea turtle species, American crocodile and bottlenose dolphins, in addition to numerous important recreational and commercial fish species,” said Hope. “Terrestrial and marine habitats surrounding the Port include beaches, mangroves, seagrass beds, and hard bottom and reef communities. Due to the ecologically diverse marine resources within the vicinity of the Port, this project includes monitoring of adjacent resources by in-water divers twice a week during all active dredging activities. If any unanticipated impacts are noted, the project is designed to have dredging operations in the area cease until the resources are returned to stable condition.

“Designating a marine environment as a ’National Marine Sanctuary’ is the highest environmental protection the federal government bestows upon water bodies of special national significance. Sanctuaries are managed to protect and conserve their resources and to allow uses that are compatible with resource protection. The Deep Dredge project is utilizing the same extensive resource and sedimentation-monitoring protocols as established for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, for the entire dredge project, making it the first Florida port-dredging project to implement the highest environmental protection monitoring protocols outside of a national marine sanctuary.”

PortMiami is working with all parties to ensure resources are protected outside of the project, and is committed to long-term monitoring after the dredging takes place. In addition, PortMiami is committed to protecting our surrounding environment in the Biscayne Bay, while serving its community, to provide a sustainable Port, according to Hope.

“An extensive construction safety protocol for construction activities in addition to a marine mammal watch program and sedimentation and turbidity monitoring of adjacent seagrass and hardbottom reef communities will be implemented during all construction activities, said Reichold. “These programs were developed in coordination with local, state, and federal agencies to ensure protection of all life during construction.”

Miami’s deep dredge project makes the port more competitive with other deep water east coast ports, including Norfolk and Baltimore. Because of PortMiami’s geographic location, the world’s largest shipping lines offer regular service from PortMiami to more than 100 countries in more than 250 ports across the globe.

Rebeca Sosa, commission chairwoman of Miami-Dade county has described the Deep Dredge as one of the most important projects in the Port’s history, while Lynda Bell, commission vice-chairwoman, and head of the commission committee overseeing the seaport, called it a vital economic catalyst.

“PortMiami is South Florida’s second largest economic engine after Miami International Airport,” Bell said. “The dredging project will ensure that our seaport remains competitive in the global marketplace.”

PortMiami is among America’s busiest ports and recognized across the globe with the dual distinction of being the Cruise Capital of the World and the Cargo Gateway of the Americas. PortMiami contributes more than $27 billion annually to the south Florida economy and helps provide direct and indirect employment for more than 207,000.

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