NC Ports Works to Proceed on Wilmington Harbor Navigational Project

Thu April 01, 2021 - Southeast Edition
WilmingtonBiz


The preferred plan would deepen the Wilmington Navigational Harbor to 47 ft., allowing it to accommodate larger, deep draft container vessels, and enabling carriers to continue to utilize the Port of Wilmington as a port-of-call for U.S. East Coast-Asia services. (North Carolina Ports rendering)
The preferred plan would deepen the Wilmington Navigational Harbor to 47 ft., allowing it to accommodate larger, deep draft container vessels, and enabling carriers to continue to utilize the Port of Wilmington as a port-of-call for U.S. East Coast-Asia services. (North Carolina Ports rendering)

A big project to deepen the Port of Wilmington's navigational channel is closer to environmental studies now that North Carolina Ports has agreed to fund part of that work.

NC Ports Executive Director Brian Clark on March 29 signed a "Letter of Intent" to cover the ports' share of costs for studies on its Wilmington Harbor Navigation Improvement Project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As a result, now the USACE can seek federal funding to do the studies.

It's the next step in the process to get the enterprise moving forward, following federal legislation late last year that authorized the channel deepening project in a long list of projects under the Water Resources and Development Act of 2020.

"The letter of intent is an important next step in the process," Laura Blair, spokesperson of NC Ports, said in an email. "The [NC State Ports] Authority will serve as the non-federal sponsor for this phase of the project. When completed, the Wilmington Harbor Navigation Improvement Project will allow deep-draft vessels to efficiently navigate to the Port of Wilmington.

"A more efficient channel would modernize the Port, attract more import and export business, help mitigate East Coast congestion and help North Carolina Ports become an even stronger player in this competitive landscape, thereby supporting the economies of Wilmington, New Hanover County, eastern North Carolina and the entire state."

Officials have estimated the project, which has been discussed for several years now, will cost $834 million. The navigational improvement project aims to deepen the Wilmington Harbor channel leading to the Port of Wilmington from 42 to 47 ft. to support the larger commercial cargo vessels traveling through the Cape Fear River to the port. The USACE will share the costs of the studies. The letter of intent agrees the ports will provide funds, the amount of which is yet determined, that will go toward environmental studies, and is not to be used for design and construction funding.

At the NC State Ports Authority Board meeting in March, Clark said that the letter "does not commit or obligate us or any non-federal partner to the overall construction costs."

The studies will include NEPA, climate change analysis and other economic questions, officials have said. NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, requires federal agencies to look at the environmental effects of actions or projects like the harbor deepening and includes a variety of assessments to measure environmental impacts.

Clark has previously said that NEPA work and other studies could take place over the course of the next year or so if funding is obtained. It will likely take years, however, before the project could reach the construction phase, Army Corps officials have said. At this point, any funding, federal and nonfederal, would go toward studies and work to answer details needed to get the project approved for construction, USACE officials confirmed in an email. Once federal funding is obtained, the Army Corps of Engineers will draft a cost-share agreement to divvy up the costs of the studies for the NC State Ports Authority to review.




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